Here’s a bit of happy news for your Monday: there’s evidence that the HPV vaccine is reducing strains of humanpapilloma virus, even among unvaccinated people. How does that work? Well, it’s due to “herd protection,” where the overall rate of infection goes down due to lower rates of infection in people who might otherwise be affected. More vaccinated people = lower rates of infection in unvaccinated people = safer sex for everyone! Hooray!
Dr. Jessica Kahn, associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, explains: “If girls are getting vaccinated, they are not spreading HPV to male partners, who then don’t spread it to other female partners.” The evidence comes from a study that looked at two groups of women ages 13 to 26. One group was seen in 2006 and 2007, before the vaccine was widely available, and one was seen in 2009 and 2010, when the vaccine was more prevalent (about 60% of the latter group had received the vaccine). Here’s what happened:
Among the vaccinated, rates of HPV infection fell from 32 percent to 10 percent — a 70 percent drop. Perhaps even more dramatic, rates of infection among the unvaccinated fell from 30 percent to 15 percent — a 50 percent drop.
Although the rates of infection in the four main strains of HPV dropped, the overall rate of infection remained pretty high, a statistic doctors cite as even more support for why the vaccines (there are two main ones, Gardasil and Cervarix) are necessary.
Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, said:
It’s too early to be definitive, but there is a very strong suggestion that this vaccine not only protects the [people who received the vaccine] but protects the community as well.
This is amazing news for reproductive health. Not to mention good ammunition against those who think the vaccine is going to turn teenagers slutty, because as this study shows, the HPV vaccine is good for everyone: for parents, for boys and girls, men and women. As more and more people continue to become vaccinated, let’s hope HPV (which can cause anal cancer, cervical cancer, and more) will eventually become a rare disease, not something that over 50% of sexually-active men and women in the US are infected with in their lifetimes.