Breathe Easy, Parents: Vaccine Not Tied to More STDs

HPV vaccine did not appear to raise sexually transmitted disease rates in girls

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some parents have raised concerns that vaccinating young girls against HPV, a sexually transmitted illness, might lead to more unsafe sexual activity in these girls. New evidence, however, suggests that's not the case — and the vaccine could prevent serious health problems.

Girls who had the HPV vaccine were not more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than those who had not been vaccinated, suggesting that they were not more sexually active, a new study found.

“Being vaccinated against HPV does not promote sexuality in teenagers," said Andre F. Hall, MD, of Birth and Women's Care in Fayetteville, NC, in an interview with dailyRx News. “Nor does giving teenagers information on contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The belief that vaccinating teenagers against HPV somehow increases sexual activity is a myth.”

The HPV vaccine prevents the transmission of human papilloma virus, the most common STD in the US. The vaccine was released in 2006. It is available to girls and boys starting at age 11 to give them time to build up immunity before becoming sexually active. HPV can lead to cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, anal cancer and genital warts in girls.

By 2013, 57 percent of 13- to 17-year-old girls had received at least one dose of the three-dose vaccine, said the authors of this study, led by Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

These researchers looked at a large database of 12- to 18-year-old girls. They used the incidence of STDs to determine whether these girls were more sexually active before or after they received the vaccine.

Of the girls in the study, nearly 22,000 had received the HPV vaccine. Around 186,000 had not received it.

When Dr. Jena and team looked at STDs in both vaccinated and unvaccinated females before and after vaccination, they found the increase in STDs similar.

“We found no evidence that HPV vaccination leads to higher rates of STDs," Dr. Jena and colleagues wrote. “Given low rates of HPV vaccination among adolescent females in the United States, our findings should be reassuring to physicians, parents and policy makers that HPV vaccination is unlikely to promote unsafe sexual activity.”

In an editorial about this study, Dr. Robert A. Bednarczyk, of Emory University in Atlanta, said doctors also need to speak to parents, promoting the HPV vaccine as they do other vaccines. They should also stress why the vaccine is given early, he said — for reasons like a better immune response, vaccinating before sexual activity starts, and “consistent evidence that HPV vaccination does not lead to increased sexual activity.”

Dr. Hall said parents should not forget the importance of this vaccine.

“Failing to vaccinate only places these young people at increased risk of preventable conditions such as genital warts and cervical cancer,” Dr. Hall said.

The study and editorial were published Feb. 9 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging funded this research. Dr. Jena and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 7, 2015
Last Updated:
February 10, 2015