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Parents' fears of HPV vaccine grow

The controversial HPV shot given to girls.

The controversial HPV shot given to girls.

Published Apr 3, 2013


More parents of teen girls not yet fully vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which protects against cervical cancer, are intending to forgo the shots altogether - a trend driven by vaccine safety concerns, according to a US report.

Researchers, whose findings appeared in Pediatrics, found that about three-quarters of girls ages 13 to 17 were not up to date on their HPV vaccine series in 2010.

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And the proportion of parents of those girls who said they didn't plan to get their daughters the rest - or any - of their HPV shots rose from 30 percent to 44 percent.

“These are wonderful vaccines which are preventing severe diseases,” said study leader Paul Darden from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre in Oklahoma City.

“HPV is the first vaccine that will prevent cancer, which is a tremendous health benefit.”

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children, both boys and girls, receive three HPV shots as preteens.

“There were a lot of very sensationalised anecdotal reports of (girls) having bad reactions to the vaccine,” said paediatrician and vaccine researcher Amanda Dempsey from the University of Colorado, Denver.

“Safety concerns have always risen to the top of the pile, in terms of being one of the main reasons people don't get vaccinated, which is unfortunate because this is one of the most well-studied vaccines in terms of safety and is extremely safe,” added Dempsey, who wasn't involved in the new study.

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Darden and his team got their data from a national immunisation survey that involved phone calls to almost 100 000 parents.

They found that from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of teens who were up to date on their Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), MCB4 (meningococcal) and HPV had all risen slightly.

But aside from the fact that a majority of girls were not up to date on their HPV shots in 2010, the researchers also found that the proportion of parents of those girls who said they didn't plan to get their daughters the rest - or any - of their HPV shots rose from 30 percent to 44 percent.

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At the same time, the proportion who cited safety concerns as their reason for abstaining from getting the HPV vaccine increased from less than five percent to 16 percent.

For all three vaccines covered in the survey, the other reasons parents gave for skipping their teenagers' shots included not thinking they were necessary, not having had a specific vaccine recommended by a doctor and, for the HPV vaccine, believing that ther child was not sexually active.

Dempsey said past research has suggested that although more girls are being vaccinated against HPV, vaccine rates haven't increased as quickly as for other shots.

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Parents shouldn't rely on the media or Internet to learn about vaccines, Dempsey said, since it's hard to tell what information is legitimate.

“If they have questions or concerns, they should trust their provider to give them accurate information about the vaccine,” he added.

Darden reports having been a consultant for Pfizer, and one of his co-authors is on a safety monitoring board for vaccine studies funded by Merck, which makes Gardasil, one of the HPV vaccines. - Reuters

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