If societal media articles concerning the HPV vaccine have made you nervous, you’re not alone. Despite its capacity to protect against several types of this cancer-causing virus, uptake on the vaccine lags behind other shots given to preteens.
While the reasons families choose to opt out of the HPV vaccine change, some express concern over its safety–often mentioning stories seen online asserting the vaccine induces, among other things, ovarian failure in young women.
Does the HPV Vaccine Cause Ovarian Failure?
It doesn’t seem like it. During clinical trials ahead of the vaccine being discharged into the market, there were no reports of ovarian failure or related ailments, and analyses of reports from individuals who received the vaccine after it was accepted did not demonstrate a link either.
Actually, studies done both before and after the HPV vaccine has been released indicate it is just as safe as other vaccines given at the exact same age, including individuals against meningitis or pertussis. For the great majority of adolescents, the worst side effect experienced will be a sore arm, headache, or fainting–each one which is quite standard for vaccines given to adolescents. A tiny number of people can have a severe allergic reaction and enter anaphylaxis, but that is extremely rare.
Correlation vs. Causation
So what about those posts you’ve been visiting in your newsfeed?
While a very small number of cases of ovarian failure and other serious events are reported following HPV vaccine, researchers exploring the reports haven’t been able to find any reason to believe they were actually brought on by the vaccine.
The distinction between having a connection with the vaccine–correlation–and actually being due to it–causation–is an important one.
Unfortunately, bad things happen all of the time for a variety of factors. From time to time, they really are only a coincidence.
That’s why it’s so crucial for researchers to analyze those claims via large scale, scientific research to see if individuals who got the vaccine were more likely to have destructive events occur than those who didn’t. And in the instance of the HPV vaccine, these studies–a few appearing at thousands and thousands of people–have not found any explanation for you to be concerned.
It should be noted that these are different than studies done by the manufacturer, and package inserts to the vaccine do not reflect them. Package inserts are required by legislation and include everything that occurred during clinical trials–even when they had nothing to do with the vaccine.
Are Vaccines Tested for Safety?
Before a vaccine is allowed to be marketed in the USA, it first has to go through a series of evaluations to demonstrate that it is safe and effective. During those pre-licensure clinical trials, the vaccine is tested in thousands of individuals and investigators carefully examine any differences between people who received the vaccine and those who did not. If, and only if, the vaccine has been shown to possess strong benefits and minimal risks, it can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used in the United States.
Getting to this point may take years, and many vaccine candidates never get it that far.
After a vaccine has been discharged into the market and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations on who should receive it, researchers continue to verify that the vaccine is safe. Through programs like the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and the Vaccine Safety Data Link, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could accumulate and examine information on bad things that happen after vaccination to see if there is any reason to think it was a consequence of the vaccine.
In the case of the HPV vaccine, tens of thousands of individuals were included from the pre-licensure trials, and research since have looked at thousands and thousands of recipients in many states, including the United States. Research continues to prove that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective at lowering cancer-causing HPV.
HPV and Cancer
Roughly nine in 10 people in the USA will get HPV at least one time in their lives. While many will clear it before realizing they had it, others will go on to develop cancerand there’s no way to know beforehand who will get cancer from HPV and that will not.
Cervical cancer is the most well understood, but HPV can cause at least two distinct kinds of cancer in both men and women, including anal, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and head and neck cancers. In reality, HPV is believed to be linked to 5% of all cancers worldwide, and vaccination protects against the virus subtypes most likely to lead to them.
If you are concerned about impacting your child’s ability to have children later in life, the HPV vaccine can help protect that ability–not damage itas cervical cancer treatment can occasionally restrict a woman’s ability to get pregnant or have a safe birth.
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for all preteens–girls and boys –in the USA at age 11 or 12, though it can be given at any stage between ages 9 and 26.
Early adolescence is the best time to get vaccinated for several reasons:
- Because the vaccine may only shield against types the body has not encountered yet, it is ideal to finish the series before even considering becoming sexually active.
- Adolescents are already getting vaccines against meningitis and pertussis, therefore it is logical to give the HPV vaccine at the same moment.
- The vaccine produces a stronger immune response at that era, compared to older ages.
The vaccine is administered in two or three doses, depending on when you start the series. Younger teens need two doses, while those who wait till later in their teen years to begin the series will need to receive three.
A Word From Verywell
If you or anybody in your lifetime has gone through cancer treatment, you know how difficult that experience can be. Studies have shown the HPV vaccine is very safe, and it can protect your children from becoming preventable cancers.