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STD Vaccines: great help or great danger?

FEBRUARY 8, 2005 -- Condoms. Abstinence. Education. Now, vaccines to prevent sexually transmitted diseases?

There are several being tested, though the first probably won't be available for at least another five years. But when they are, many parents seem willing to have their kids vaccinated.

A survey in this month's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found parents support vaccines for STDs about the same as for non-sexually transmitted diseases, even for kids as young as 12 years old.

"It doesn't mean they're going to have sexual intercourse the next year or the next five years, but that you want to protect them as early as possible before they engage in the kind of behaviors that expose them to infections," explains Gregory Zimet, a researcher at Indiana University.

Given several scenarios, parents surveyed were more apt to choose STD vaccines when the disease was severe, the vaccine was effective and behavior changes not available.

But for one in four parents, those factors didn't matter at all. They choose vaccines every time.

Some family groups are concerned that telling teens they're protected against STDs may encourage them to have unprotected sex, and risk getting other diseases.

"It's like playing 'whack-a-mole'," says Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "You knock one down and, before you know it, another one appears. It could create a deadly, false sense of security in our young people."

Researchers say this study may reassure pediatricians, who have said they'd be reluctant to recommend STD vaccinations, fearing negative reactions from parents.

Vaccines would be available first only for girls. One study of a herpes vaccine found it to be 70-percent effective for women, but not effective at all for men.

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