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HPVerrrrrry Complicated

Well my friends, we have arrived at our final blog in my three-part series about cervical health in light of January being Cervical Health Awareness Month. After this, would you all be cool with me talking about something slightly less contentious like, say, butterflies or even genetic cloning? (Ooooh, turns out February 1st is “Spunky Old Broads Day.” Now that would be an amazing and generally well-received blog topic.)

A few weeks ago, women’s health care provider, Megan O’Connor, brought us up to speed on protocols and expectations around pap smears as well as other cervical disease prevention and evaluations. Then last week, I dug into the way we make decisions about – and classify others’ decisions about – vaccinating our children, with an emphasis on the HPV vaccination, which may soon be mandated for children in NY State.

This week, pediatric nurse practitioner/wizard of all matters pertaining to vaccines and children’s health, Jennifer Lown, paid us a visit to talk shop about the social and clinical aspects of the HPV vaccination. Many of you know Jenn from Bambini Pediatrics, and several of you met her last month when she facilitated a talk about vaccinations at Baby Botanica. Jenn will be back at Baby Botanica next Friday 1/24 to speak more about vaccinations, this time with an emphasis on HPV. To join Jenn’s talk next week, see the link below (after you’ve read our enlightening interview, which is a teaser for Jenn’s in-person talk without being a total spoiler. Intrigued? Read on!)

Jeni: Thanks for joining us to chat more about the HPV vaccination, Jenn! To begin with, why is the HPV vaccine more complicated and also more controversial than other vaccines seem to be? 

Jenn: (Friendly chit chat and witty repartee excluded from manuscript, but trust me, Jenn is both brilliant and seriously freakin’ funny.)With something like measles, you really have no control over whether or not you’re going to contract it.  If you’re in an area with someone who has measles, and you’re not already immune, it’s pretty likely you’re going to get it.  With HPV, since it’s sexually transmitted, there are a lot of modifiable risk factors that affect whether or not you contract the disease (like condoms).  Also, since HPV is transmitted sexually it’s tied up with a lot of feelings about sexuality and morality which is by nature an extremely complicated subject.

Jeni: Why is the HPV vaccine being potentially mandated seemingly more upsetting to people than the Hep B vaccine, which is also mandated and pertains to STDs?

Jenn: This is a tough question!  But HPV is purely transmitted sexually.  Hepatitis B can be transmitted from blood contact as well – so needle sticks or biting can conceivably transmit Hepatitis B.  I often tell people teenagers giving themselves tattoos is probably the riskiest behavior I can think of!

Jeni: (Blogger’s mental note: must chat with offspring about no peer tattooing.) Why do you think the HPV vaccine is just now being considered as a mandated vaccine?

Jenn: I feel like in a lot of controversial conversations, the dialogue is just becoming more and more polarized.  Now it seems like you can’t take a middle ground – you have to be for every single vaccine, or else you’re an “anti-vaxxer.”  The more polarized our conversation seems to be getting, the less people seem to be able to raise legitimate concerns over one thing or another.

Jeni: Is any of the skepticism or scrutiny related to a general skepticism about the government?

Jenn: I have seen some people express this as a concern, but to be honest, more people have genuine concerns about the health risks.  I definitely think that everyone is trying to make the best decision possible for their children.

Jeni: What is the actual benefit of the HPV vaccine? And how do you feel about Gardisil in terms of a specific vaccine?

Jenn: Gardasil is the main HPV vaccine used.  (There’s also one called Cervarix that only covers for two types of cancer causing HPV.)  Gardasil claims to be nearly 100% effective, and actually a recent article published in JAMA did present a study that found that about 97-98% of women who had received any doses of Gardasil had not contracted HPV. That article also showed that one dose of HPV vaccine is just as effective as two or three doses, so I’m interested to see if the recommended dosage is lowered in the future. Gardasil is definitely not without its drawbacks, however.  Since we began using it, there have been a lot of negative reports of side effects.  I plan to go into detail about this during my talk, it’s definitely a subject that takes a lot of time to dive into!

Jeni: Are there other pros of the HPV vaccination, given all that we’ve heard about the potential risks and side effects, and what we may not know yet given its relative “newness”?

Jenn: Probably the strongest pro argument that I’ve heard is that HPV can cause other types of cancers – anal, esophageal, and oral cancers – that can be much more devastating than cervical cancer.  

Jeni: Wow. People talk about the risks and prevention far less for those cancers. Jenn, thank you for explaining all of this and for coming back to Baby Botanica to get into this more with our clients!

Trust me, you do not want to miss Jenn’s talk about vaccinations HPV. Learn more here, and book your seat/s for 1/24 on our Schedule! And thanks to you all for being extremely receptive and fair and kind as I’ve gotten into some hot and awkward topics this month. Healthy, lively discourse is so valuable, and I am always open to YOUR thoughts on all of these matters as well.

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