Renewed Debate over the HPV vaccine

Renewed Debate over the HPV vaccine

Medical groups strongly recommend the HPV vaccine for preadolescent girls, but the issue has surfaced as a political flash point. Diane and her guests discuss benefits and risks of the vaccine.

During Tuesday’s CNN tea party presidential nominee debate two of the candidates sparred over perhaps an unlikely issue: the HPV vaccine. Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann criticized Republican Governor Rick Perry for signing an executive order in 2007 requiring middle school age girls in the state of Texas to have the vaccine – an order that was subsequently blocked by the Texas state legislature. Her comments renewed debate over the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine …and what role, if any, the government should have with regard to who gets vaccinated. Diane and her guests discuss benefits and risks of the HPV vaccine.


Dr. Roberta DeBiasi

pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s National Medical Center

Peter Sprigg

vice president for policy at the Family Research Council

Liz Szabo

reporter, USA Today

Dr. Renata Sanders

adolescent Health
general pediatrics and adolescent medicine,
Johns Hopkins Children's Center

Program Highlights

The vaccination that adolescents, mostly girls, get to protect against the sexually transmitted HPV virus is, again, in the news. In a Republican debate, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann alleged the vaccine could have very dangerous side effects. She faulted Gov. Rick Perry for once pushing that all sixth grade girls be vaccinated.

The Political Firestorm

Republican GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry came under fire from his fellow candidates during a recent debate because he had put forward an executive order attempting to mandate the HPV vaccine for school entry. When the Texas legislature opposed the measure, he didn't pursue it. But the broaching of the subject at the debate was what prompted Bachmann's comments about the alleged link between the vaccine and mental retardation.

Lack of Supporting Evidence for Side Effects

Diane asked the guests if there were any reports that demonstrated links between the HPV vaccine and developmental disorders like autism. The guests agreed that there is no existing research demonstrating any such links or causation. "In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement discussing how the HPV vaccine has not been associated with mental retardation," Dr. Sanders said.

How HPV Works

According to Dr. Sanders, many people don't know that they have HPV, and it is often asymptomatic. About 90 percent of HPV infections clear naturally with no treatment in about 2 years. Dr. Debiasi noted that the virus is so common that about 50 percent of all sexually active people have some form of it. And Dr. Sanders pointed out that although the vast majority of cases resolve with no complications, there are some strains that are more likely to result in cancers, including some oral cancers.

Solutions Based in Behavior-Change

Sprigg makes a distinction between HPV and other viruses children are routinely vaccinated against, like measles and mumps. Sprigg says that since youth can protect themselves from HPV by abstaining from sexual contact, it is in a different category from the other diseases. Sprigg also believes that if a state does pass a law mandating vaccines, there should be an opt-in rather than opt-out system.

What is the Ideal Age-Range?

Dr. Sanders said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends catch-up immunization or vaccination against the HPV infection in 13- to 26-year-olds. She also pointed out that there are studies looking at whether or not it can be used in even older woman because there's a big need for evidence to show whether or not it's as effective in the older population as it is in the younger population. Dr. Dibiasi noted that some people aren't aware that the vaccine is safe for boys, too.

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