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Sunday, September 18, 2011

What about that HPV Vaccine?

The vaccine to protect against human papilloma virus (HPV) in girls and boys has recently been at the forefront of the news media for reasons that I won't comment on here.  But it reminds me to address the two vaccines that are currently FDA-approved for use against this common, multi-strained, skin virus to help lower the incidence of cervical cancer among women.

HPV comes in many forms (over 100 known strains), but only a select few actually cause dangerous health risks.  Plantar warts are a good example of how HPV can be annoying without being flat-out dangerous - HPV type 1, 2,4 and 63 are thought to cause these growths on the sole of the foot.  But for cervical cancer risk, there are 12 or 13 bad actors.  Of those dozen or so, two are notorious: HPV 16 and 18.  These two strains are the only "high risk" strains covered by either of the two commercially available HPV vaccines today.

The vaccine that was first marketed with FDA approval was Gardasil, by Merck & Company.  Gardasil covers not only HPV 16 and 18, but it also blocks types 6 and 11 of HPV - those latter two strains cause annoying, but not dangerous, genital warts.  The Gardasil vaccine requires three separate shots to be given over the course of 6 months for girls/women ages 9-26 (and now boys, too).  The second vaccine to come to market was Cervarix, by GlaxoSmithKline, which covers only HPV 16 and 18.  It also requires three separate doses at roughly the same intervals as its competitor.

Both of these vaccines are considered very safe and very effective, and time will be the judge regarding how many fewer cases of cervical cancer will result from aggressive vaccination now in the approved age-group.

One of the most concerning things that I have noticed recently is the emergence of "scare videos" and blogs that give inaccurate information about the risks of either of these vaccine series.  The actual number of adverse effects that can truly be attributed to the vaccines are few and far between.  There are a number of anti-vaccine groups and individuals whose sole purpose is seemingly to discredit ANY vaccine for any disease across the globe.

I felt strongly enough about the health benefits of administering the series of shots that I gave them to my own daughters.  HPV exposure at some point in a woman's life from her partner(s) is a virtual 100% reality - only those people who remain completely celibate for their entire lives can be certain that  they have no risk.

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