# Saturday, September 10, 2016
Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2016 | Categories: HPV

The human papillomavirus (or HPV) vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2008, following years of development and trials. From September 2012, it was made available in secondary schools as a free routine vaccination for girls aged 12 to 13, offering protection against two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases.

At the time of its introduction, many parents railed against the idea of the HPV vaccine being administered to their daughters at such a young age. The reason? The human papillomavirus – of which there are many different strains – is most commonly spread through sexual activity. People worried, in other words, that giving their daughters this vaccine was giving them the green light to enter into sexual relationships.

More recently, the vaccine has courted further controversy by allegedly causing debilitating side effects in some girls – despite no causal link being established between the vaccine and the symptoms suffered. Today, though, the discussion surrounding the HPV vaccine has moved somewhere entirely new: boys, and whether or not they should be routinely vaccinated.

Campaigners in the UK such as HPV Action are now pushing for the HPV vaccine to be made available to boys in secondary school. This is happening in response to rising rates of HPV, new evidence suggesting that the virus may cause anal and penile cancers, and the fact that the vaccine currently costs a whopping £160 – making it totally unaffordable for many British families.

If you’re a parent deliberating over whether or not to vaccinate your children against the human papillomavirus, you may find the following guide helpful.

The Human Papillomavirus

HPV is a name applied to a set of viruses, all of which affect the body in a similar way. They attack the skin and certain membranes, including the cervix, anus, throat and mouth.

There are over 100 types of HPV and they vary in severity, with some classed as particularly high-risk. Around 30 types affect the genital area specifically, and these types are very common and infectious. They are spread during sexual activity, through skin-to-skin genital contact.

Not everyone who gets HPV will develop symptoms; however, if you contract certain strains you could develop genital warts (the second most common STI in the UK after chlamydia) or cervical cancer.

How the HPV Vaccine Works

The HPV vaccine currently in use in the UK is Gardasil. Up until 2012, Cervarix was used. Both vaccines offer good protection against the two strains of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer: 16 and 18. However, Gardasil also offers protection against strains 6 and 11, which most commonly cause genital warts.

Gardasil can also protect against anal and penile cancers caused by the human papillomavirus and is licensed for use in boys, unlike Cervarix.

The vaccine must be given in two doses within a period of six to 24 months, and ideally should be received before you become sexually active. This is because the vaccine cannot treat HPV, only prevent you from contracting it.

If the HPV vaccine were made available routinely to boys, they would likely receive it between the ages of 11 and 12.

What to Do If You’re Not Vaccinated

If you or your child have not received the HPV vaccine and you’re concerned about the risks associated with the virus, there are several things you can do to stay safe.

First of all, it’s very important to practise safe sex. That means wearing condoms when you’re having sex with a new partner and you aren’t sure that they’re free from STIs. However, it’s not always easy to know if someone has HPV, and it is very easy to contract it during sex – sometimes even if you are using condoms.

For that reason, it’s important for women to attend cervical cancer screenings every three years from the age of 25 (or 20 in Scotland). Women can also use home test kits, such as those supplied by The STI Clinic, to screen themselves for HPV.

Unfortunately, there are currently no reliable HPV tests available for boys and men. This is another reason why rolling out routine Gardasil vaccinations for boys whilst they are at school would be beneficial. Until that happens, however, boys and men can stay safe by practising safe sex and visiting the doctor if they experience any unusual symptoms that could point to anal cancer or penile cancer.

# Sunday, January 25, 2015
Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2015 | Categories: HPV

Gardasil 9 is the latest vaccine on the market for the prevention of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV- one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses around today), and five more HPV strains than the previous Gardasil vaccine and it is thought that number 9 will prevent against 90% of cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers. It was only on December 10th of 2014 that the US Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine which is now available for use in males aged between 9 and 15 years and females aged between 9 and 26 years.

The strains covered by this particular vaccine include HPV strains 16, 18, 33, 45, 52 and 58, and now include, strains 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. These added strains are thought to contribute to 20% of cervical cancers. This is an exciting time for HPV research since the results of the study, that led to the approval of this vaccine, involved a massive, 14,000 women who were not diagnosed with the virus and who were between the ages of 16 and 26. They had either received the original Gardasil or number 9. The study gleaned that Gardasil 9 was a whopping 97% as effective as the original in preventing against strains 6,11,16, and 18.

The safety of the new vaccine was assessed among approximately 13,000 men and women and the most common reactions and side effects included headache, swelling, redness and pain at the site of injection. No serious side effects were reported.

There are about 40 different types of genital HPV and some strains can cause genital warts, others cause cancer in men and women. Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix, another HPV vaccine, are effectively the first vaccinations we have had against cancer. But still there is debate about whether or not the vaccine is a help or a hindrance in terms of promiscuity among teenage girls.

Public debate myopically focuses on the idea that vaccinated girls and women feel a false sense of security, and are more open to risky sexual behaviours, such as not using condoms, or having sex with multiple partners. This false sense of security, some people believe, will lead to an increase in the number of unexpected pregnancies and STIs across the board.

A recent population based, retrospective study, set out to examine the effects of the vaccination on sexual behaviour among grade 8 adolescent girls in Ontario. 128,712 girls were eligible for vaccination within the first 2 years of it being offered. This group was compared to the grade 8 group from 2 years before this, and who were not eligible for the program. The study’s participants were observed for 4.5 years, approximately, and data was collected. The study’s authors gleaned that there was no statistically significant increase in the risk of sexual behaviour with regards to the HPV vaccination.

It is obvious that parents and teachers need to be educated on the topic of HPV and vaccination, an opportunity that was not available to people publicly until recently, an option that is still not available to the young male population in certain countries at all. We have a lot to learn about this relatively new vaccination but what we do know is that it definitely has the potential to prevent against cancers that are related to the HPV virus.

You can read more about this at NewsMaxHealth.

# Sunday, May 12, 2013
Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2013 | Categories: HPV

As a general rule when it comes to policy-making, scare tactics rarely rule. However, that is not to say that it is not important to know what key concern may motivate an individual to seek help for their problem. A recently published study has come out with findings that suggest that young women are more concerned about preventing genital warts than cancer when it comes to being motivated to get the HPV vaccine.


The study, which was published in the journal Health Communication, included a total of 188 college women and 115 of their mothers. The college women had an average age of 22, whereas the mothers had an average age of 50. All the participants were given packets of materials that had a pro-vaccine message and a questionnaire. Both age groups were then split into half. One half of the young women's group received a leaflet that had a heading stating “prevent cervical cancer”, whereas the other half of this age group received a leaflet with a header that stated “prevent genital warts”. In this age group the main outcomes were to see whether any message would be a higher motivator for the participant to speak to a doctor about the HPV vaccine. The mothers group was also split into half and received similar packets. The main difference was that rather than advocating that they speak to a doctor, the leaflet was wondering whether the mothers would encourage their daughters to speak to a doctor about HPV vaccinations. In addition to that, all the participants received a questionnaire where their feelings about the vaccine were investigated.


The researchers postulated that young women would be more motivated to seek medical advice if they worried about genital warts than about cervical cancer. This was based on past studies, which have found that adults tend to worry about cancer at a much later stage in life. This was supported by the current study's findings. The researchers also hypothesised that the mothers would prefer to encourage their daughters if their key concern was cancer, as sexually transmitted illnesses would have been a cause of embarrassment. However, this was not supported by the findings. Instead the mothers seemed keen to speak to their daughters regardless of the type of risks.


This study certainly is interesting and valuable, as it has illuminated the need to consider generational differences when it comes to campaigns for this vaccination. In addition to that, the findings appear quite reliable (albeit in need of replication in other populations). However, it is also worth noting that there seem to be many steps between the findings and the conclusion that do not automatically follow. Perhaps the most notable ones come from the fact that the study is asking whether the women would do something, rather than measuring whether they performed the task (i.e. went to the doctor or spoke to their daughters). As such, it is not possible to rule out intentions from actions and the presence of social desirability remains ignored throughout the publication. Nevertheless, it offers a refreshing perspective that takes two points of view into account. It is our hope that this study inspires further studies in other populations in order to establish how to best motivate various individuals to get HPV vaccinations. You can read more here.

# Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 | Categories: HPV

Everyone is back to school and with that parents are being encouraged to have their daughters vaccinated against HPV (human papilloma virus), which is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause both genital warts and cervical cancer. Gardasil protects against all the strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

The vaccine is given to girls in year 8 but is also available on the NHS for girls under the age of 17. The vaccine is administered on three separate occasions and if the full 3 doses are not administered the vaccination will be ineffective so people are urged to come back for their second and third dose. Many in the past have not come back, leaving them unprotected against this potentially serious virus.

The UK has recently upgraded its vaccination from Cervarix, which only protected against 2 strains of HPV.

# Friday, July 20, 2012
Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 | Categories: HPV

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is known to cause cancer in both men and women and the virus is carried by both sexes although, in the UK so far, only girls who have not been exposed to the virus are being vaccinated. There has been much debate about whether or not vaccinating boys would be cost effective but next year the vaccine will be offered to boys of 12 and 13 years in Australia as part of their National Immunisation Program. This is mainly down to their very successful immunisation of girls and women, which began in 2007 and which has caused rates of cervical cancer to decrease significantly since.

The American Academy of Paediatrics changed their previous guidance in order to recommend that boys be included in the population of those who have the HPV vaccination available to them. This follows a recommendation for the vaccination of boys by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US.

With such positive statistics reported over the last 5 years in Australia, it has got to be a good idea to vaccinate boys and to not have to rely on the effects of ‘herd immunity,’ which would mean that boys would inadvertently be protected from the virus over time due to the mass vaccination of young girls. This form of indirect immunisation would not include men who have sex with men (MSM) who would therefore have derived no protection.

This is an expensive vaccine but as long as it’s working we can be reassured that the money which would have been spent on treating HPV related cancers can instead be put back into vaccination funding and ultimately into protecting the population from this sexually transmitted and potentially cancer-causing virus.

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