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Study Roundup: HPV Vaccine Does Not Increase Sexual Activity in Pre-Teen and Teenage Girls

Study finds no increase in sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, or pregnancy counseling between those who receive the vaccine and those who do not.

A teenage girl receives a vaccination-- by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Teenage girls are no more likely to engage in sexual activity after receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (brand name: Gardasil) than those who do not receive the vaccine, says a new study published online today in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente and Emory University found no increase in sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, or contraceptive counseling. 

While individuals have sometimes assumed that getting the HPV vaccine would lead teens to be more lax about safe sex habits, the Kaiser study indicates otherwise. HPV can lead to fatal cervical cancer, as well as genital warts and other cancers, and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends girls receive the vaccine as young as 11 years old. 

Expert Take

"This study has important policy implications because widespread use of the HPV vaccine has the potential to meaningfully reduce genital cancer rates within the timespan of one generation," Jay W. Lee, Family Physician and Director of Health Policy at the Long Beach Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program, told Healthline. 

Indeed, proponents have celebrated Gardasil as a means to drastically reduce cervical cancer rates, but the vaccine has been slow to take hold. 

"As a father and a family physician, it is reassuring not only to have confidence that the HPV vaccination is effective at reducing the incidence of genital warts and certain types of genital cancer but that receiving the vaccine is not associated with increased sexual activity among girls," said Lee.

Source and Method

1,398 girls aged 11-12 participated in Georgia-based study in 2006 and 2007. Four hundred and ninety three firls received the vaccine and 905 did not—and the girls were then followed for 3 years. During the study period and across both groups, 10 percent had either taken a pregnancy test, been tested for or diagnosed with sexually transmitted disease, or sought out contraceptive counseling--and the average age for these outcomes was 14.5 years old. 

The Takeaway

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was found not to increase sexual activity among girls, according to this study and thus parents and doctors may feel less anxious about administering the vaccine. Correspondingly, if the results from the Kaiser research are  reinforced and echoed elsewhere, policy and media professionals may consider taking the time to communicate to the public the need for the vaccine and the unnecessary concern over increased sexual activity.

"We saw no increase in pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections or birth control counseling—all of which suggest the HPV vaccine does not have an impact on increased sexual activity," said lead study author Robert Bednarczyk, Ph.D.

Other Research

The controversy over the HPV vaccine has centered around the same questions examined by the study and the issue was brought into closer inspection when former Republican Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann scorned the use of the vaccine in November of 2011. National Public Radio (NPR) reports on the science behind the controversy.

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Tags: Latest Studies & Research , Drugs , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.