NC parents weigh benefits, risks of HPV vaccinations for children

HPV

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Human papillomavirus has infected nearly 80 million people in the U.S. and 14 million more contract the sexually transmitted disease every year.

Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasly works in the Pediatrics Department at UNC Children’s Hospital and helps educate parents about the dangers of the virus and the benefits of the vaccine.

“Human papillomavirus is one of the most common infections that we have in the United States. The reason why the vaccine is important is because this virus actually causes cancers,” she explained.

HPV
HPV

Starting early

The Federal Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine in 2006 and the Center’s for Disease Control recommends it for 11- and 12-year-old girls and boys.

“The reason why we say age 11 and 12 is because we want to do it before a person is sexually active,” said Beasley.

Parents like Chaundra Harrelson are taking their doctors advice. “I just recently lost my mother to cancer so to know this is something that can almost prevent that or aid the process to prevent it, of course I’m for it,” said Harrelson.

Her 11-year old daughter just received the shot. “I don’t think this is something that can start too early,” she said.

Dr. Coyne Beasly says the vaccine is also more effective in younger children.

“I actually made a decision to give it to my daughter at age 9 because one, I knew it would be more effective and because you often don’t know when contact is going to take place,” she said.

Since 2006, nearly 2 million people in North Carolina have successfully been given the HPV vaccine, and those are just the ones that are registered with the state.

“There have been millions and millions of doses of this vaccine that have been given out across the world,” said Beasley. “We’re talking about a real ability to prevent cancers.”

Not convinced

Not everyone is in support of the HPV vaccine.

Rosemary Mathis is quick to tell you she’s not against vaccines. In fact, her daughter Lauren got the HPV prevention shots in eighth grade.

Lauren and Rosemary Mathis
Lauren and Rosemary Mathis

But it’s a decision she says she now regrets.

“Each time she got a dose, she got sick but the third dose disabled her,” explained Mathis. “She couldn’t go to school, she couldn’t do anything. I was prepared to have a disabled child for life.”

Lauren Mathis said she experienced intense headaches, dizziness, nausea and severe stomach pain.

“Being in pain all the time it was just really tough you know as an 11-year-old,” said Lauren.

“I started reading these stories about girls died from it, a lot of girls were sick from it and I was really scared,” said Mathis.

She believes the vaccine is to blame. She ended up taking her daughter to Duke University Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a vaccine injury.

“My pediatrician said I won’t believe it unless I hear it from Duke, I said ok make me an appointment and {Duke} said it was a vaccine injury,” said Mathis.

Benefits vs Risks

North Carolina News Investigates didn’t discuss Lauren’s specific case with Dr. Coyne Beasley. But she said the rate of any serious event is less than 1 percent.

She says in the past 10 years nearly 2 million people in North Carolina have successfully gotten the vaccine.

Dr. Coyne Beasley (CBS North Carolina)
Dr. Coyne Beasley (CBS North Carolina)

“Not only do we know it has high effectiveness, we’ve already seen the rates of cervical cancer going down,” said Beasley.

The CDC monitors the vaccine through a program called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System or VARES. Anyone can report and adverse event that occurs after a vaccination.

“It’s a vaccine that has been studied for a really long time and continues to be studied and under surveillance,” said Beasley.

But Mathis says the system isn’t well maintained.

“My doctor didn’t report it until I told him it was required by law to, and then he reported it,” Mathis said.

She has developed a website, sanevax.org, where other parents have reported problems with the vaccine.

“We basically work with doctors who are researching and also believe it’s causing injury to these girls and we have all these parents and we put their stories on there so anybody can go and read for themselves before they make that decision,”  Mathis said.

Public School Involvement

Susan Napolitano was upset when she received an automated call from Wake County Public Schools about the HPV vaccine.

“When I got the call, I was a little taken back about why the school would be calling about a vaccine such as this,” she said.

North Carolina News Investigates learned that here in North Carolina state law requires schools to provide information to parents about human papillomavirus and the vaccine available.

The law doesn’t specifically say that schools have to provide a phone call, so we asked the school districts spokeswoman why they do it.

Susan Napolitano
Susan Napolitano

“Sending the information via robo-call is the most cost-effective way for us to send it out,” said Lisa Luten from Wake County Public Schools. “If we were to send it out via flyer, it would cost upwards of $10,000.”

But Mathis said, “I had no idea that was state law; I think that needs to be revisited.”

“When you send a form home that says ‘Get Vaccinated’ in big bold letters I think they’re making a statement, when they follow it up with phone calls to make sure you got the form, and that you should be considering this vaccination, yes I think they’re trying to push the vaccination as opposed to just provide the information,” said Napolitano.

North Carolina News asked Luten if teachers sent flyers home. She says it’s not the school district’s policy, but it is possible that teachers can make a decision to do so.

“I don’t think the school district has all the information. They’re a place of education for the children they’re not a place of education for the medical community. They’re not part of the CDC.” Napolitano said. “I think those discussions should be left with the appropriate medical professionals.”

Parent’s choice

Despite the law, the vaccine is not mandatory. It’s up to parents to decide.

Dr. Coyne Beasley offers this advice for parents, “Have a conversation with your physician, I hesitate to have people go and do their own independent research, because there’s so much mis-information on the web.

“If you do the research and you still find that I want this vaccine then that’s your choice, but I’d say at least do the research beforehand,” said Lauren.

For more information on the HPV virus and vaccine from the CDC http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html” target=”_blank”>click here.

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