HPV Vaccines Work, Don’t Lead To “Behavioural Issues” | Vol. 3 / No. 18.2

HPV | Photo: PD-USGov-HHS-NIH, CC0 (public domain)
HPV | Photo: PD-USGov-HHS-NIH, CC0 (public domain)

Last week we got two pieces of news about the HPV vaccine, both of which reinforce the idea that everyone should be getting one of these vaccines. Read on.


First, a study in the journal Pediatrics’ March 2016 issue is reporting that HPV vaccines have significantly lowered the rates of HPV infection in the age groups that received them. Comparing the numbers from 2003-2006 with those from 2009-2012, the researchers found that in the girls 14-19 age range, infection rates dropped from 11.5% to 4.3%, and in the 20-24 age range from 18.5% to 12.1%. The vaccines, the first of which was introduced in 2006, are indicated for young women 11-12 up to 26 years of age. There was no decrease seen in the older age brackets, as would be expected given the recommended age of inoculation.

This is great news. Why? Because HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus, is an STD that causes cancer. Up to 70% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Up to 80% of anal cancers are caused by it. It causes cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx, and anus. And you know what? It’s recommended for boys, too.

But you know what? It could still be better news. Vaccination rates are still low. According to the study, in 2013 only 38% of young women aged 13-17 had received the fully-protective three doses. The male rates of vaccination were even lower.

Why? Well, one reason is that parents don’t like the idea of their kids having sex. But you know what I say to that? Sure, you don’t want them to have sex. That’s something you teach them about, tell them not to do, whatever parenting style you prefer. But I think we can all agree that cancer should not be the punishment for breaking that rule, or frankly any rule. So protect your kids.

What brings us to our second piece of good news (in a way). Because another reason parents weren’t getting their kids vaccinated against HPV was a study linking one of the three vaccines, Gardasil, to “behavioural problems.” Now, the CDC had already done studies on this and found no evidence to support it, but the study, in pre-release in the January issue of Vaccine, said it had found differently.

And last week the wonderful folks at Retraction Watch let us know that the study has been retracted by the journal. Why, you may ask?

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the Editor-in-Chief due to serious concerns regarding the scientific soundness of the article. Review by the Editor-in-Chief and evaluation by outside experts, confirmed that the methodology is seriously flawed, and the claims that the article makes are unjustified. As an international peer-reviewed journal we believe it is our duty to withdraw the article from further circulation, and to notify the community of this issue.

You should actually read the article, since it’s pretty funny. They contacted the lead author — who, like one of the other authors on the study, has had two other articles retracted now for other studies since labeled “seriously flawed” (they were about aluminum in vaccines supposedly causing autism) — and his defense was basically “this other guy who helped out with the study isn’t against vaccines!” As in, sure, the rest of us think they’re awful, but this one guy:

He will routinely start his talk with “vaccines are the greatest medical invention of all time [and] will save millions of lives.”

That’s not even “some of my best friends are vaccines.” That’s “some of one of my friend’s best friends are vaccines.”

Anyway, that study’s been pulled, and the HPV vaccines work, so regardless of your current feelings on your kids ever having sex (I’m pretty sure they have the similar feelings about you having sex) get them vaccinated. Because it’s not an anti-STD vaccine, it’s an anti-cancer vaccine.

And that’s something I think we really should all be able to get behind.


Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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