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HPV Vaccine – will be introduced in the UK for girls only

October 26th, 2007

Dr Petra

Update 06/10/10
Please note this blog is not anti vaccines. It discusses issues about the HPV vaccine and sex education policy in the UK. If you see this quoted on an anti vaccine blog please be aware it’s being used out of context.

Earlier this year I blogged about the concerns over the HPV vaccine when it looked like it was going to be introduced as a mandatory innoculation across the UK.

Today the government has released its plans for the vaccine. It won’t be compulsory, but it will be introduced to young girls (aged 12-18) across the UK from next year. So far surveys of parents suggest that it is something they will want to do.

And who can blame them? You get told about the risks of cervical cancer and how the vaccine will prevent girls getting it. Who’s going to say no to such a drug?

As my previous blog indicates the vaccine does not prevent all cancers and there are wider issues about whether parents and teens will understand this. Perhaps unsurprsingly some women’s and men’s health groups have expressed worries about how girls will be used as guinea pigs to test the vaccine while boys will not be given the drug to protect them.

This whole story raises wider issues about how we view sex, adolescence and gender. It seems we are prepared for girls to be vaccinated but not boys – even though this would arguably reduce the spread of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. For some, this seems like we are still putting responsibility of managing sex with girls and allowing boys to take fewer responsibilities.

In focusing on vaccinations it may be that parents assume this will be the answer to sexual health problems and won’t see the need for sex education or encouraging safer sex. For many teens they may think the vaccine will protect against all STIs and put themselves at risk of further infection by not using condoms.

There’s always a problem in questioning a vaccine. We’ve all seen the damage that questioning MMR has done to our public health. However, in this case there should have been more critical appraisals carried out by our journalists about this vaccine and whether in this case our government was driven by the evidence – or by drug company influence (as some have argued). One has to wonder why it is when we have drugs like MMR the media is happy to slam them and cause a lot of heartache and health problems. But when it’s come to this vaccine it’s been greeted as a wonder drug with no discussion whatsoever. Despite there being debates within the health/education spheres around whether to focus on the vaccine, or prevention messages and compulsory sex education.

So if you are a parent who wants to protect their child here’s what you can do….
- Talk to your child or teenager about sex, health, confidence and negotiation skills.
- Ensure your child’s school offers high quality sex education.
- If you don’t feel confident talking about sex ask for sex education to be delivered via your child’s school or see if the health promotion department at your primary care trust can help.
- Tell your teenager about safer sex, condom use and how to avoid coercive sexual behaviour.
- Inform boys about sex and ensure they understand how to resist peer pressure.
- Enable girls to enjoy sex but to only have it when they feel ready.
- Campaign for better sex education and access to sexual health services for young people.
- If you do decide on a vaccine discuss it with your teenager and read all the clinical evidence before you go ahead.
- If your child is vaccinated ensure they understand that condom use is still vital.
- Read up on the topic of sex education and sexual health – here are some resources that can help.

Update 06/10/10
Please note this blog is not anti vaccines. It discusses issues about the HPV vaccine and sex education policy in the UK. If you see this quoted on an anti vaccine blog please be aware it’s being used out of context.

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