HPV Vaccine in Australia Already Appears to Be Working

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April 20 2013 8:00 AM

HPV Vaccine in Australia Already Appears to Be Working

Artwork of a virus
A new study has found the nasty human papillomavirus is on the decline in Australia, most likely due to a vaccine program started in 2007.

Image credit: Peeradach Rattanakoses/Shutterstock (modified by Phil Plait)

Some good vaccine news for a change: A vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) appears to be working. HPV causes genital warts, and can lead to cervical cancer in women. In Australia, which began use of the HPV vaccine in 2007, cases of genital warts in young women aged 12 - 26 dropped 59 percent, and 39 percent for men. Not only that, but cervical abnormalities dropped as well—a glimmer of hope that for these vaccinated women, their chance of getting cervical cancer is dropping as well.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

That is fantastic news!

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The HPV vaccine caused quite the uproar here in the States. The usual antivaxxers hated it because, well, it’s a vaccine, but there was also mainstream fear-mongering, as well as being demonized by the conservatives, who said it would lead to promiscuity. That last is pure nonsense; in fact, a new study shows no significant increase in sexual activity in young women who have had the vaccine over those who have not.

That’s not surprising at all to anyone who thinks critically about this. The number of sexually transmitted diseases out there is pretty big (not to mention the chance of getting pregnant). It defies logic to think that removing just one such risk will lead to young women suddenly sleeping around whenever they get the chance.

But when you go full antiscience, logic goes out the window.

I’ll note that a lot of the folks attacking Gardasil for conservative reasons also promote abstinence-only education programs. But we’ve known for years that abstinence-only programs not only don’t work, but actually increase the risk of teen STDs and pregnancy. Yet those programs still are very popular among the socially conservative… and they’ll defend them at any cost.

The HPV vaccine does not do what the antivaxxers claim, what the far right claims, or what the middle claims. Apparently, in Australia, what it does do is reduce the risk of a nasty STD and quite possibly a horrible death from cervical cancer.

That sounds pretty good to me, and I hope this news reaches people in America still holding doubts. That’s why, when our daughter reached the right age and after doing our due diligence on it, my wife and I decided she should get her HPV vaccinations (in the form of Gardasil). Along, of course, with her flu shots, her MMR, and her TDaP. As did my wife, and as did I.

Vaccines save lives. Not getting them puts you at risk of contracting otherwise preventable diseases, and giving that disease to others. Healthy people can get very sick from these diseases and have grave complications. People with compromised immune systems, or infants, can get severely ill and even die.

It’s really just that simple. Make your choice.

Tip o' the protein capsid to Mel Peffers on Facebook.

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