A new study may alleviate concerns that the human papillomavirus vaccine leads to either the initiation of sex or unsafe sexual behaviors among teenage girls and young women, researchers said.
Beliefs of teen girls and young women regarding the HPV vaccine, whether accurate or inaccurate, are not linked to subsequent sexual behaviors over the six months after vaccination, reported researchers with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Those enrolled in the study did not change their behavior whether they thought safer sex was less important or just as important after vaccination, or whether they thought the vaccine did or did not decrease the risk of sexually transmitted infections other than HPV. The vast majority thought it was still important to practice safer sex after vaccination, and most did not believe that HPV vaccination protected against other STIs, according to the study, which was published Feb. 3 on the website of the journal Pediatrics.
We hope this study reassures parents, and thus improves HPV vaccination rates, which in turn will reduce rates of cervical and other cancers that can result from HPV infection, Jessica Kahn, MD, a physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s, said in a news release.
Kahn studied sexually experienced and inexperienced young teens and women between the ages of 13 and 21. More than 300 participants completed questionnaires immediately after receiving the vaccine, and most completed follow-up surveys again two and six months later.
These surveys assessed demographics, knowledge and attitudes about the HPV vaccine, beliefs about risk for acquiring an STI other than HPV after vaccination, beliefs about the need for safer sexual behaviors after vaccination and sexual behaviors. The behaviors surveyed included sexual initiation among those who were not sexually experienced at the time of vaccination, and number of sexual partners and having sexual intercourse without a condom among those who were sexually experienced at the time of vaccination.
Among all sexually inexperienced participants (42.5%), baseline risk perceptions were not associated with subsequent sexual initiation; in age-stratified analyses, girls 16 to 21 years of age who reported lower perceived risk for other STI (an inappropriate perception) were less likely to initiate sex, the authors wrote.
Among all sexually experienced participants (57.5%) and in age-stratified analyses, baseline risk perceptions were not associated with subsequent number of sexual partners or condom use.
HPV affects 7.5 million girls and young women between the ages of 14 and 24 in the U.S. HPV causes cervical cancer and other genital cancers, but vaccines are available that prevent the types of HPV that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers. The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends HPV vaccination for teenage girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26, for teen boys and men between 11 and 21 and for men 22 to 26 who are at high risk for HPV, according to the news release.
Perhaps because of concerns that vaccination of adolescents could lead to risky sexual behaviors, vaccination coverage among 13- to 17-year-old girls increased only from 48.7% in 2010 to 53.8% in 2012 for one dose of the vaccine. Coverage increased from 32% to 33.4% for three doses over the same time period.
Data demonstrating that HPV vaccination does not lead to riskier behaviors will allow clinicians to provide accurate, evidence-based information to address the concerns of parents and thereby increase vaccination rates, Kahn said.