This week in big surprises: A study released on Monday reveals that young women with the HPV vaccine are not more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections as a result of unprotected sex, shutting down the notion that the vaccine could promote riskier sexual behaviors among teens. Given the ongoing "debate" about immunity and inoculation (in our world desperate for an explainer on the importance of hand-washing), the findings are not shocking, yet still very heartening!
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at STI diagnoses for 21,000 U.S. girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from 2005 to 2010, and focused on whether or not they had contracted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis or HIV/AIDS after receiving the HPV vaccine. Researchers compared that information with infection rates of 180,000 unvaccinated young women, and found that the vaccinated group did not have higher rates of STIs. That implies that vaccinated young women aren't necessarily engaging in more unsafe sex, which is in keeping with earlier studies that show the HPV vaccine does not turn teens into sex-crazed loons (at least, it doesn't make them any loonier than their hormones already do).
The study's lead author, Dr. Anupam Jena, told ABC News that fears over increased unsafe sexual activity aren't entirely misplaced, but they aren't entirely well-founded either. “I’d like to emphasize that it’s a real concern," Jena said. "It’s not something to automatically dismiss but that’s why we need some scientific evidence to show we’re on the right path." But, he added, "the evidence suggests that it’s not important" whether or not young women are vaccinated -- it has more to do with doctors (and, I'd add, parents and educators) telling them about the health risks associated with unprotected sex.
While the new study does not deal specifically with the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine, Jena pointed to other research indicating that the vaccine is safe, effective and not taken advantage of enough in the United States. Compared to other nations where the HPV vaccine is made available, the U.S. has despicable vaccination rates -- but we've still managed to see a reduction in the rates of "vaccine-type HPV in U.S. teens," which the CDC attributes to -- you guessed it -- vaccination.