HPV in Black Women: Are the Odds Currently Stacked Against Us?

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Recent news reports are shedding light on the theory that Black women and girls are less likely to be protected by the two HPV vaccines that are currently available on the market. HPV, the human papillomavirus, which can infect the genital area and is known to cause cervical cancer has over 100 different sub-types.

Of those, 40 different subtypes can infect the genital area. New research has shown that the various sub-types are often linked to specific ethnic/racial groups. Of the two commercially available vaccines, Gardasil offers the most coverage, by protecting against four common sub-types of high-risk HPV and Cervarix protects against only two of the most common sub-types of high-risk HPV.


Image: Gardasil Vaccine by Jan Christian via Wikimedia Commons

The reason minority women and parents of minority girls should be alarmed by this is, the most common types of high-risk HPV that are prevalent in the majority population are not the same as the sub-types that are prevalent among the minority (Black and Hispanic) population.  According to research coming out of Duke Medicine,

Two subtypes of human papillomavirus (HPV) prevented by vaccines are half as likely to be found in African-American women as in white women with precancerous cervical lesions.

Bottom line: Gardasil and Cervarix are not protecting the majority of our Black women and girls from the sub-types of high-risk HPV we are known to carry.

I'm still an advocate of vaccination in general because it offers what is known as "herd immunity." However, we need to keep a watchful eye on the research as it further develops AND be willing to participate in the research. If you happen to have an abnormal pap smear, ask your GYN or primary care provider if they are aware of any studies currently being funded by NIH to further examine the correlation between HPV sub-types and ethnic/racial groups.

We need a vaccine that will offer protection against the high-risk sub-types of HPV that plague our community. For a more in-depth understanding of the sub-types that plague various ethnic/racial groups, please read the article highlighting a study conducted by Cathrine Hoyo, Ph.D., M.P.H.


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