Beginning this fall, all current students at two public and six private schools in Colorado Springs and the greater Denver area could soon be required to have three doses of the vaccine for the potential human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on or before the 18th birthday.
Two middle schools – Mueller Arts Center and Willoughby Expeditionary School – are also slated to require the vaccine after students have graduated, in accordance with the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The Montessori-type National Capital Montessori School and Hermitage Elementary School are also expected to pass the vaccine requirement in coming months.
The news came as a surprise to parents who said they’re trying to prepare their children for upcoming medical tests and decisions about the HPV vaccine — commonly known as the Gardasil — but are also facing the possibility of additional vaccinations that they may have to endure.
According to a news release from the Public Health Department of Colorado, the vaccine is targeted to protect young women and is not recommended for boys. HPV spreads through sexual activity but can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and from mother to child during breastfeeding.
Nearly half of all high school girls in the United States have HPV, according to the CDC, with the infection most prevalent in females ages 13 to 24. Many of the girls who receive HPV vaccines in adulthood may avoid complications that occur in about 30 percent of people whose disease is not cured.
“The vaccine doesn’t do much to prevent a human immunodeficiency virus infection with this strain (Leprosyh) and it doesn’t get the LEP-19 virus,” Richard Belz, MD, a molecular biologist at the Rocky Mountain Institute and consultant to the Public Health Department of Colorado said in a phone interview Thursday. “That means it’s only protecting one out of 10 people. And people are usually immunized before they become infected with this strain of the virus.”
One older student at Mueller, a competitive high school for girls in Pikes Peak region, said she plans to opt out of the requirement to protect her unborn child.
“Why are they going to force me to put a vaccine on a 6-week-old?” Tanner Pruitt said. “I’m going to opt out of it.”
Another student at Mueller, who is pregnant, plans to delay the vaccine until after her daughter is born.
“For some of my friends, we have been talking about it, but none of us have agreed to vaccinate our kids yet,” Peyton Dobbs said. “We didn’t want to change what we’re already doing, but now, we are pregnant, so we definitely are going to do it.”
Recent medical research indicates that the vaccine does not provide any longer-term immunity to the HPV-19 infection either, according to Belz. He said the vaccine was first developed nearly 30 years ago and not tailored to respond to the strains.
But Belz said some studies point out that even though it is not the only cause of the infection, some cases are caused by genital warts caused by HPV and HPV-19 is one such strain.
“Based on some well-known studies, certain girls who got that vaccine can still get it at some point,” Belz said. “Some studies do suggest that it’s not very good at all.”
The vaccine, which is approved for use in patients who are 12 to 26 years old, can decrease the risk of infection by up to 86 percent in adults who have already been infected. Those who are between 18 and 26 years old who have not yet received the vaccine are recommended to consider vaccination to reduce their risk of HPV-19 infection.
Pruitt and Dobbs said that with the availability of the HPV vaccine, they think many of their peers will not opt for the injection, and some may opt out altogether.
Belz said he wouldn’t be surprised if only a few students at Mueller opted out.
“It’s a target age for both the adolescent and the prevention of the infection with this strain,” Belz said. “Plus, the higher-end public school grades would be administering that vaccine, so it might be more accessible to kids who might want that vaccine for reasons other than health, or doesn’t have the same religious or philosophical concerns.”
While the vaccination would be required upon graduation, Pruitt said she has no plans to skip it before the 18th.
“I am gonna go through with it because the students voted for it,” Pruitt said. “I am sure, though, that if I did, I wouldn’t do it for religious reasons.”