Illinois action blog

Monday, September 19, 2011

HPV Vaccine: Fact vs. Fiction

Here at Planned Parenthood, we believe that prevention is the best kind of health care, which is why we endorse the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection better known as HPV.  While some strains of HPV are relatively harmless, others can cause genital warts or cervical cancer.  The federal government includes HPV on its list of recommended vaccinations for girls, and the CDC, the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics all join Planned Parenthood on the list of supporters for the vaccine.

Conspicuously absent from that list, however, are several presidental candidates, a fact made alarmingly clear throughout the 2012 GOP presidential primary.  Here's what Rep. Michele Bachmann had to say in an interview immediately after a recent debate:

"It comes with some very significant consequences.  There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate.  She said her daughter was given that vaccine.  She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.  There are very dangerous consequences."
While it may be an effective scare tactic, this statement couldn't be further off the mark in terms of medical fact.  The vaccination, which is FDA-approved for both men and women,  has proven to be both safe and effective.  If we're discussing "dangerous consequences," it's fair to say that perhaps the most dangerous thing in that statement is the power it has to falsely frighten women away from a routine and potentially lifesaving procedure.  For a presidential candidate to do so is not only unpresidential, but downright irresponsible.
But Rep. Bachmann did get one thing right.  While her claim about the vaccine's link to mental disability and other "dangerous" side effects has no basis in science, her claim about its "siginficant consequences" is right on the money.  Here are some numbers that we'd call "very significant": Around 20 million Americans are currently infected with the HPV virus, with 6 million new infections each year.  One percent of sexually active adults in the U.S. suffers from genital warts at any given time.  Each year, around 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, the majority with cases caused by HPV, and 4,000 die of the disease. 

And a vaccine with the power to reduce, and someday maybe even eliminate, those numbers? We’d call that pretty significant, too. PPIA calls on all the GOP presidential candidates to repudiate the scare tactics and stick to the facts when it comes to women’s health and the HPV vaccine.

Planned Parenthood is doing our part to stop HPV - by the end of this year, we'll be offering the vaccine at all of our health centers across the country.  But we need you to do your part as well.  Learn more about HPV here, and find out more about how to protect yourself here.
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