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Parents' Worries About HPV Vaccine on the Rise

Doctors puzzled by the growing safety concerns, because shot guards against virus that can cause cervical cancer

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Across the study period, less than 1 percent of parents cited safety concerns over those two vaccines.

The findings come from a CDC survey of U.S. families with 13- to 17-year-old children, done over three years. Parents were asked open-ended questions about their reasons for not vaccinating their child.

Both Darden and Cunningham said it's puzzling that parents' safety worries about the HPV vaccine would grow so much, so fast. It's not clear from the study, but Cunningham said he suspects many parents get misinformation online.

"There's a lot of unreliable vaccine information out there," he said.

According to the CDC, the most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are the same as with other vaccines: pain at the injection site, dizziness, mild fever. There have been cases of fainting reported -- but, Cunningham said, that can happen after any vaccination, especially to teenagers.

The agency has also gotten reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine. But more than 90 percent of them also had risk factors for blood clots -- such as smoking or using birth control pills, the CDC said.

Parents in this study did have other reasons for not wanting their daughters vaccinated. Just over 17 percent said it was "not necessary," and 11 percent said their daughters did not need the vaccine because they were not sexually active -- an erroneous assumption, Cunningham said, because the HPV vaccine should ideally be given before a girl is sexually active.

Surprisingly, Darden said, few parents brought up cost as an issue.

There are two vaccines that can prevent infection with certain cancer-related strains of HPV: Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix. And both of them cost about $400 for three doses.

Still, most insurance plans and Medicaid cover HPV vaccines. And the government Vaccines for Children program offers free vaccines to lower-income families who are uninsured or "underinsured." That might be why few parents blamed costs, Darden noted.

As for safety, he suggested that parents with concerns go to reliable online sites, like the CDC website, and talk with their child's doctor.

In what Darden called a positive finding, doctors do seem to be recommending HPV vaccination. In 2010, only 9 percent of parents who did not intend to vaccinate their daughters said it was because their doctor hadn't recommended it.

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