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Study finds more parents hesitant about children getting HPV vaccine

Doctors say that comes with potentially life-threatening consequences

A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination is seen at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine on September 21, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, is given to prevent a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cancer. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle, 2011 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new study says that while more doctors are recommending it, more parents are hesitant about their daughters and sons getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine -- even though it can protect against a half-dozen different cancers.

This is not a new vaccine. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration 15 years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 120 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed since then, and the data continues to show it’s safe and effective in both males and females. In fact, it’s 90% effective in preventing six different cancers.

Yet, the new study found there’s more hesitation from parents to get their children vaccinated, and the doctors who News4Jax spoke with say that comes with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I get very passionate about this because -- it’s ridiculous -- I am a cancer surgeon, and I want to put myself out of business,” said Dr. Guy Benrubi, the emeritus chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UF Health Jacksonville.

Benrubi has practiced medicine for more than three decades, but his main passion nowadays is educating people on the importance of getting the HPV vaccine.

“Suppose they got a vaccine tomorrow that prevents breast cancer in women, would we have resistance to that? Why do we have resistance against a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer?” Benrubi said.

The HPV vaccine does not just prevent against cervical cancer. Besides the cervix, the HPV vaccine can prevent cancer from developing in the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and back of the throat, including tongue and tonsils in both men and women.

“We have this tool, but there is a reluctance by patients to use it,” Benrubi

The FDA has approved the vaccine for anyone up to 45 years old, but the CDC recommends children be vaccinated at age 11 or 12, which means primarily parents will make that decision.

But the study published online Feb. 9 in Pediatrics, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that from 2012 to 2018, HPV vaccine hesitancy among parents of girls increased from 54% to 68%, compared to 44% to 59% among parents of boys.

“A lot of parents are worried about the safety of the vaccine, so that’s one of the reasons,” said Dr. Kalyani Sonawane, with the University of Texas School of Public Health, who is one of the publishers of the study. “A lot of people are not aware of the importance of the HPV vaccine, so lack of knowledge is also an important factor. Also, a lot of people feel it’s not necessary.”

According to the CDC, of the millions of people who have received the HPV vaccine, there has been no evidence suggesting the vaccine causes fertility problems, autism, long-term disabilities or death.

The CDC also says the HPV vaccine does not cause HPV infection or cancer.

Sonawane says any side effects are mild and go away quickly

“There could be minor adverse effects that are associated like pain at the injection site or fever, but they are not as serious to discount the benefits of the HPV vaccine,” Sonawane said.

Benrubi says he only wishes a vaccine had been available sooner.

“I remember distinctly 30 years ago -- we did not have a vaccine -- walking onto a floor in the middle of a Saturday night where the nurse said, ‘Dr. Benrubi, your patient is dying.’ And I knew she was going to die, and I walked in,” Benrubi recalled. “This was a 41-year-old patient, and in that same time that I was walking in, there was her husband was walking in, carrying a 3-year-old in his arms, holding another 6-year-old by the hand, and in front of him was a 10-year-old. They were all walking to see their mother die, and I said, ‘This is something that we need to get rid of.’”

Last month, Benrubi’s son, who is also a physician at UF Health Jacksonville, treated a 30-year-old mother of three who died from cervical cancer.

“Now that 30-year-old could have been vaccinated 15 years ago when the HPV vaccine came out, and she would not have had to die,” he said.

Benrubi implores parents and their children to get the vaccine.

About the Author:

Lauren Verno anchors the 9 a.m. hour of The Morning Show and is the consumer investigative reporter weekday afternoons.