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HPV Vaccination Skepticism?

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HPV vaccination statistics in adult men and health care education, why go without treatment?

American health care is more accessible than ever before, but this is also a period in American culture where there is much skepticism about the use of medical prevention like vaccinations.

One example of this is the COVID-19 vaccines. While vaccines for this virus were made and given to Americans within two years of its inception, there was much criticism about it.

People, often right-wingers upset by vaccination mandates, questioned the validity of the cure for COVID and worried about the side effects of a quickly produced vaccine. How valid is this concern really? Regardless, the refusal or simple ignorance of vaccine usage isn’t an issue specific to the COVID vaccine.

There is a community of cancer patients that aren’t so quick to trust methods of conventional oncology like chemo and radiation therapy because of their toxic side effects. Some look to homeopathic remedies, or research cancer treatments that haven’t been approved by the FDA, like antineoplaston therapy.

A more common example of this lack of vaccination are those who have Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) that Americans can get vaccinated against when they are young, but those who don’t vaccinate do so for a number of reasons.

In a research article published by the Journal of Mens Health, a study is done on a sample of men with HPV to find out why. The reasoning of the participants in this study were boiled down to five main points:

  • -Low Awareness and Limited Knowledge About HPV and HPV Vaccination
  • -Perceptions of HPV as a “Women’s Only” Disease
  • -Embarrassment and Stigma Surrounding HPV Vaccination
  • -Safer Sex and Monogamy as Preferred Means of HPV Prevention
  • -Concerns About HPV Vaccine Side Effects and Safety

The research article summarizes why below:

“Low Awareness and Limited Knowledge About HPV and HPV Vaccination

Participants across all racial/ethnic and educational groups reported limited awareness and knowledge about HPV and HPV vaccination. Participants identified social media, “trusted health websites” (e.g., WebMD, MayoClinic, and Planned Parenthood), pharmaceutical advertisements, and discussions with family and friends as their primary sources of HPV and HPV vaccine information. Most participants reported HPV was transmitted via “unsafe sex” but were unaware HPV can be transmitted via sexual skin-to-skin contact alone. Though many participants recalled HPV caused genital warts, most participants were unaware of any HPV-related cancers that affect men. Many participants reported that HPV vaccination is recommended for teenagers, while the vast majority were unaware the vaccine had been FDA-approved for adults through age 45. For example, one participant emphasized: “All I know is there is an age limit, and I am over the age limit” (30s, Asian or mixed race/ethnicity, graduate/professional degree).”

Perceptions of HPV as a “Women’s Only” Disease

Many participants reported they considered HPV to be “serious” due to the cancer risks it poses to women. As one heterosexual participant shared, “I’m not so worried about me, I couldn’t handle the possibility of giving it [HPV] to a partner and them developing cancer because of me” (30s, non-Hispanic White, less than bachelor’s degree).

Most participants also only knew of female friends or family members that had been vaccinated against HPV and lacked awareness of the utility of vaccinating men. As one participant shared, “I thought it was more important for young ladies to get vaccinated and didn’t realize how important it was for men as well” (40s, Hispanic, less than bachelor’s degree).

Despite initially conceptualizing HPV as a “women’s only” disease, upon learning that HPV-related cancers affect men, several participants reported being open to being vaccinated. For example, one participant shared: “if people were told about the cancer, they’d want to get vaccinated” (40s, Hispanic, less than bachelor’s degree).

Embarrassment and Stigma Surrounding HPV Vaccination

Some participants reported that embarrassment and stigma surrounding vaccination against a sexually transmitted infection were perceived barriers to HPV vaccination. For example, multiple participants expressed believing HPV vaccination was only necessary for people with multiple concurrent sexual partners and/or reported that friends, family, or health care providers might assume they were promiscuous if they were to seek HPV vaccination.

As one participant noted: “family might be questioning why I would get such a vaccine” (40s, Asian or mixed race/ethnicity, graduate/professional degree). A few participants reported they anticipated negative reactions from members of local religious communities which could deter them or other men in their community from HPV vaccination. For example, one participant shared: “[the] religious community might balk at the idea [of HPV vaccination] if they’re conservative in views of pre-marital sex” (30s, Asian or mixed race/ethnicity, graduate/professional degree).

Safer Sex and Monogamy as Preferred Means of HPV Prevention

Several participants suggested that practicing “safer sex” and maintaining monogamous relationships were effective, and preferred means of HPV prevention that negated the need for vaccination. For example, one participant who had previously been eligible for HPV vaccination before age 27 shared that they had not been vaccinated because they were “always practicing safe sex and [using] condoms” (30s, non-Hispanic Black, less than bachelor’s degree), while another recalled, “I have been told [by a health care provider] I should get the HPV shot. However, I refused because I never thought of a reason to get it. I am sexually active but only with one person.” (20s, Asian or mixed race/ethnicity, less than bachelor’s degree).

Other participants reasoned that possible monetary costs associated with vaccination outweighed any vaccination benefits for men currently in monogamous relationships. As one participant emphasized, “Why would I justify the full price of [the HPV vaccine] if I’m in a committed relationship? [I’m] not having sex with randoms” (30s, non-Hispanic White, less than bachelor’s degree). Although a few monogamously coupled participants acknowledged that they would consider HPV vaccination because the long-term stability of relationships are unknown, most didn’t foresee a possibility of ever having future sexual encounters which could lead to HPV transmission.

Some participants even suggested that getting vaccinated would erode trust within existing monogamous relationships. For example, one participant explained: it could be construed as wanting to protect yourself if you are stepping out [cheating] on your partner (20s, non-Hispanic White, less than bachelor’s degree).

Concerns About HPV Vaccine Side Effects and Safety

Concerns about HPV vaccine side effects and safety were raised by several participants. Some reported they had heard HPV vaccines had more serious side effects compared with other vaccines, or noted they considered HPV vaccination to be “new” with an unknown long-term safety profile. As one participant shared: We don’t know how many years it will take for these side effects to emerge. It can cause long-term side effects to some of the people” (20s, non-Hispanic Black, less than bachelor’s degree).

Multiple participants noted specific concerns about HPV vaccination causing sterility, impotence, or damage to the health of any future children, for example: “Has it been out long enough to know long-term side effects such as sterility or impotence, or any links to birth defects?” (30s, Asian or mixed race/ethnicity, graduate/professional degree). To alleviate these concerns, participants expressed a desire to hear about the experiences of men who had been vaccinated against HPV in adulthood and/or see concrete statistical data on the safety profile of HPV vaccination among men in their age group.”

This data shown illustrates an important point about the polarizing nature of vaccination. On one hand, those who seem undereducated in regard to this vaccine should rightly have as much access to information about it as possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to make an educated decision to take the vaccine because of the health benefits to them and those around them.

On the other hand, at what point should someone be skeptical about a vaccination? The HPV vaccine seems to have no downside, but what about certain cancer treatments, or the COVID vaccine? These two treatments can involve unwelcome side effects but certainly not in all cases of therapy or vaccination. Maybe the ends outweigh the means.

Is there any one conclusion every single American can come to about every vaccination, a superposition? The answer is probably no because of how much debate surrounds this topic in the media alone.

To circle back, the most important step in the right direction seems to be education. The best thing to do regarding health care is to make a fully informed decision. If there is any doubt, make the most unbiased and well-read decision that suits the individual patient’s needs. 

Alexander Emerson

  • Writer
  • Caregiver

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