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Vaccine does not make girls have sex

15th October 2012

Researchers in the United States say that girls who have been given the human papillomavirus (HPV) are no more likely to have more sex, or more risky sex, than those who have not.

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According to researchers in Georgia, neither were the girls more likely to get other sexually transmitted infections or to become pregnant.

The research may help to allay the fears of the vaccine's critics, who have said that the illusion of a greater degree of protection against sexually transmitted disease might encourage girls to become sexually active sooner than they otherwise might, or to engage in riskier sexual practices than they might have before vaccination.

According to Saad Omer, an infectious diseases and vaccine researcher from Emory University in Atlanta, said some parents had expressed this concern.

But he said they could be reassured that studies of young girls who had received the vaccines did not appear to substantiate such fears.

Currently, only around half of girls aged between 11 and 12 in the US have been given the jabs, which have been recommended in children who are not yet sexually active since 2006.

Some apparently fear that the vaccine will encourage young people to think they are safer than they are.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that boys get the HPV vaccine as well.

Using databases from the managed care organisation Kaiser Permanente Georgia, Omer and his colleagues looked at the clinical records of 1,398 girls who received the HPV vaccine aged 11 or 12.

Of those girls, a total of 493 received at least one dose of the vaccine. Their care records dating until the end of 2010 were examined for evidence of pregnancy tests, and 107 girls were found to have undergone one.

A total of 55 girls got tested for chlamydia. Those being tested for pregnancy and chlamydia were evenly weighted across the group that had received the HPV vaccine, and those who had not.

Four girls got pregnant during the study period; two of them had received the vaccine and two had not.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, Omer's team reported that they had no way of telling how many of the girls were sexually active during the study, nor whether the girls had requested pregnancy or chlamydia testing, or whether they had been offered them as part of a standardised approach.

According to Divya Patel, a gynaecology researcher from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the study provided a good initial sense of the effects of HPV vaccination on the behaviour of girls and young women.

However, she said many pieces of the puzzle were still missing.

She said that girls may not even know at the age of 11 or 12 that the HPV virus is sexually transmitted, although they may know the vaccine protects against cervical cancer.

She said the study was also limited by the fact that it only looked at records from the offices of family doctors, because girls could also get access to such tests in other places.

She called for further studies in older girls and in different parts of the world, to give a fuller picture.

According to Patel, there are other issues influencing the uptake of the vaccine than concerns that it will encourage promiscuity, however.

Many people lack a sense of the risk of getting HPV, and possibly also cervical cancer, from HPV in the first place, he said.

He said vaccination was still the best way to prevent transmission of the virus.


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