Somehow, over the last few years, one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements has turned into one of modern American parents’ most fraught subjects.
In this episode of The Checkup, our podcast on Slate, we offer Shots: Vaccine Facts And Fictions, in which we attempt to have a rational, fact-based discussion about some of the vaccines you may encounter in the immediate future: the flu vaccine and, if you have pre-adolescent children, the HPV vaccine.
(To listen to The Checkup now, click on the arrow above; to download and listen later, press Download; and to get it through iTunes click here.)
This year’s flu vaccines offer consumers more choices than ever: there’s a nasal version, a quadrivalent (four-strain) option, a “short-needle” option and an egg-free vaccine for people with allergies, among others. And even though it still feels like summer in some parts of the country, doctors are urging people to get their flu shots early.
The HPV vaccine was introduced seven years ago but, according to the CDC, only about half of girls are getting one or more doses, and only about one-third are getting the full three-dose course. This despite word from public health officials that it’s highly effective for preventing HPV — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and a principal cause of cervical cancer — and so far, pretty safe. (It’s recommended for boys as well as girls, both because boys can spread HPV and because there’s a notable rise in HPV-related cancers in older men. See: Michael Douglas and oral sex. )
Doctors say a variety of obstacles stand in the way of more widespread use of the HPV vaccine. There remains the stigma of a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection. Also, when you’re talking about an 11-year-old, preventing cervical cancer may seem less urgent than, say, preventing measles. Finally, there’s a general sense of “vaccine fatigue” among parents bombarded with so many official recommendations and competing agendas.
For more info, check out this HPV fact sheet created by our intern, Rachel Bloom:
Readers, please let us know how you’re handling vaccines for your family this year. Anything we can learn from your experience?