Gardasil, a vaccination originally meant for women, is growing in popularity as preteens and males are now encouraged to get the cancer-preventing shot.
In Lawrence, as more children receive the shot during their middle school years, the task of making sure every patient is educated about the vaccine no longer is just an OB-GYN's responsibility. Pediatricians are stepping in to talk to patients and their parents about Gardasil at an earlier age and are becoming the primary distributors for the vaccination. Boys are now encouraged to receive the shot, too, which is also boosting the number of patients pediatricians are giving the vaccine to and helping to stop the spread of the sexually transmitted virus.
Gardasil is a type of Human Papillomavirus vaccination for males and females given to patients in a series of three shots in a six-month time period. It prevents HPV, and with that, cancers caused by the 40 different strains of HPV such as cervical, penile, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer, as well as genital warts.
“If people receive the vaccine prior to being sexually active, we can help stop that transmission of HPV,” said Jaime Thompson, with Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Since its FDA approval in 2006, doctors have been encouraging patients to receive the vaccination, but in recent years there’s been a shift from OB-GYNs taking the lead on educating patients to pediatricians pushing the product.
“The target age is 11 and 12. Doctors hope to get most children before they become sexually active. Pre-teens are also at the age where they’re already getting scheduled shots, so it is easier to add the HPV vaccination into the routine,” said Kirsten Evans, pediatrician at Lawrence Pediatrics.
Although OB-GYNs in Lawrence try to educate their patients about the drug, now that is has been on the market for several years, more patients who see an OB-GYN have already received the vaccine. They see far less traffic for Gardasil than pediatricians.
“Now we’re catching the ones now who didn’t get caught when they were younger,” said Linda Easum, Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists director.
It’s not just for girls
When Gardasil was first introduced it was made for women but after more research, it is now approved and marketed for men, too.
“HPV affects boys as much as it affects girls,” Evans said.
At Lawrence Pediatrics, Evans said the number of boys versus girls who receive the vaccination is pretty equal. She said that if a parent is uneducated about the vaccination, regardless of the child’s sex she’ll explain what it is and encourage parents to have their child get it.
Across the country that may not be the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53 percent of girls received at least one of the three doses of the HPV vaccine in 2011 while the number of boys was only about 1 percent.
The only way to test a person for HPV is with a pap smear, so although a boy can’t be tested for HPV, by getting the vaccine he is preventing himself from unknowingly transmitting it to a partner. In turn, that helps to lower the number of men and women affected by HPV.
Some people are opting out of getting the vaccination because they are misinformed about who can and cannot get the vaccine. One of the common misconceptions at Lawrence OB-GYN specialists is that if a woman has had sex she can’t get the vaccine, which is not the case.
Even if a person has been sexually active or even has HPV, doctors still recommend that he or she receive the vaccine to prevent that person from getting any other strains of HPV he or she doesn’t have.
“No matter what they’re here for, if they haven’t received (the vaccination), we talk to them about it,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Evans agree that the number of people vaccinated is growing, but some still aren’t sold on the idea of receiving the drug.
Cathy Worcester, licensed practical nurse at Lawrence pediatrics, said part of the reason more parents are having their children get the vaccine is because they have a fear of any vaccinations in general. She said lately parents have been more hesitant because they are afraid vaccinations could cause autism or health issues like autoimmune diseases, but that’s not the case.
“The safety has been proven,” Evans said.
Evans said the chances of getting some type of disease are no higher in a person who just received a vaccination than in the regular population.
Despite the skepticism surrounding vaccines, Evans said that usually after a doctor explains what the vaccine is, who can get it and the benefits of stopping HPV from spreading, patients change their mind and choose to get the shot.
“It’s very rare a person will say, ‘Oh I’m not going to do everything I can to prevent cancer,’” Easum said.