Researchers say they haven't found any evidence that vaccinating girls against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, encourages them to start having sex.
According to a study published today in Pediatrics journal, girls who received the HPV shot at 11 or 12 were no more likely to have inquired about birth control, tested for sexually transmitted infections or got pregnant by age 14 or 15 than girls who hadn't been vaccinated.
The findings are based on the medical records of nearly 1,400 girls in Atlanta, around 500 of whom had had the HPV vaccine and around 900 who had had vaccines for other, non-sexually transmitted diseases, according to USA Today. The rate of each outcome was identical in both groups.
What's especially significant is that the study is the first to look at clinical data rather than relying on participants to report their sexual activity, the Associated Press said.
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The researchers hope that their findings will finally reassure the public that receiving the HPV vaccine won't lead to promiscuity, as some parents and religious groups have argued, according to NBC News.
In Calgary in Canada, for example, bishops ruled that the vaccine shouldn't be offered in the city's Catholic schools because to do so would send "a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed." That decision puts thousands of girls' health at risk, according to the National Post.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that both boys and girls routinely receive HPV shots from age 11 or 12, the idea being to build up an immunity well before they start having sex.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US, with at least half of all sexually active people contracting it.
The virus can cause cancers of the vagina, cervix, vulva, anus, penis and back of the throat, as well as genital warts. It has also been linked to heart disease in women.
The new study was funded by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Southeast and Emory University, and led by epidemiologist Robert A. Bednarczyk.
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