Tuesday, August 30, 2011

HPV (Gardisil) Vaccine and THE TALK

Do parents get squeamish when they have to bring up HPV vaccine during a checkup for their 12 year old?  Yes, it turns out, according to a recent study.   Investigators from the Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently presented their work at a national meeting of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. 

When it comes to girls, they note that the recommended timing of the vaccine works nicely with the age at which conversation about topics related to sexuality should be happening frequently.  Subtle short discussions engaged in with some regularity are better heard than the "talk" which is often awkward for everyone involved.  The series of three vaccines over six months allows doctors and other providers to initiate conversation and answer questions about what exactly HPV is.  But it also should be an opportunity for providers to model an easy age-appropriate three-way conversation with the young patient and the parent.

As far as boys go, the findings were a bit different and may be enlightening for providers.  "Overall," said Abigail Lees, one of the researchers, "parents believed their sons to have a low susceptibility to HPV infection and its outcomes."  They figure that this disbelief is driven by the stigmatization and anxiety that people feel with respect to anal cancer ( "my son isn't gay") and oral cancers ("just the thought of so much oral sex makes me uncomfortable"), both conditions associated with HPV.   Of course it's not rational but we all know that denial is a powerful thing.

Is it that somehow cervical cancer in females is more "acceptable" even though it is, of course, also sexually transmitted via the HPV virus?   The researchers recommend (and are funded by Merck) that "awareness campaigns" focus more on the prevalence of HPV (over 75% of sexually active people are exposed to the virus in its many forms by age 20) and less on the gruesome pictures of lesions and sores that may just backfire on parents and teens alike.

Clearly Gardisil has a PR problem and it's interesting to see how US culture surrounding issues of sexuality continues to appear to be the root roadblock to wider acceptance and immunization rates. Talk early and often to your kids. Keep it simple.  Start where they are and don't make assumptions.

image from: noplacelikehome.org


  1. I totally agree with your conclusion with regards to this matter. Teachings and education always start at home.

  2. So true. I admire your ability and ideas in writing this up. This is so much inspiring to read.