Dear Surly Amy,
I’m (very nearly) a 30 year old woman who has only had a handful of sexual partners in my life; only one of them entailing vaginal penetration. The HPV vaccine came out in my early 20s and when my doctor found out I was already sexually active he shrugged off the idea of even giving it to me. This didn’t seem entirely logical to me at the time and it still doesn’t seem to make the most sense. Wouldn’t it be a situation of ‘better safe then sorry!’ and just best to give it to me? My insurance should (shitty as it is!) cover it and failing that it can’t be -that- expensive! So my question really is: Is there any benefit in pressuring my doctor into giving me the HPV vaccine now or or is it really a situation where I shouldn’t bother? Having read many of your past Ask Surly posts I see you’re way more well connected with doctor types then me and with my social anxiety it really is that hard for me to pick up the phone and ask my doctor this question.
We have addressed a similar issue here as an Ask Surly Amy question in the past. The question was phrased a bit different at that time and was essentially should moms get the vaccine for their sons and daughters? The answer to that question was a resounding yes. So I am not going to go into any detail about the benefits of the vaccine in terms of a preventative measure in children and young adults. You can read the prior post for that information if you so desire. Long story short – for young people yes, it is an important vaccine.
CDC continues to recommend the vaccination of 11 and 12 year old girls with 3 doses of vaccine to prevent the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is also recommended for girls and women ages 13 through 26 who did not get any or all of the doses when they were younger.
Additionally, Gardasil protects males against most genital warts. This vaccine is available for boys and men, 9 through 26 years of age.
There is not a lot of evidence to judge effectiveness of the vaccine in sexually active men and women over the age of 26. The vaccine was developed and studied for use in young adults. The verdict seems to still be out as to whether there is benefit in adults who are still sexually active. If you do decide to get the vaccine, you will most likely only suffer a sore arm. However again, this vaccine has really only been studied and deemed effective (to my knowledge) as a preventive measure, protecting against genital warts and cervical cancer in young men and women. It would have seemed reasonable to give you the vaccine when you were younger, but is quite reasonable not to recommend it now.
If you still feel uncomfortable with your doctor’s advice please seek a second opinion at a women’s health clinic or see another MD. I understand that you feel uneasy discussing this sort of thing in person, many people do but rest assured that doctors get these types of questions everyday. If discussing this on the phone or in person is really difficult for you – try emailing your doctor. My personal advice? Continue regular cervical cancer screenings, if you have sex, have protected sex, and follow the recommendation of your MD or seek a second, qualified opinion.
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