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Why I chose the HPV vaccine for my daughters

My 12-year-old daughter spent the first morning of spring break sitting in a doctor's office, getting pricked in the arm with the HPV vaccination.

She didn't faint. She didn't have any pain. She didn't experience any nausea or headaches.

The only discomfort came from me driving to the doctor's office for a second time and making yet another appointment in four months, when she returns for her third and final dose of Gardasil, one of the vaccines currently approved for fighting the human papilloma virus.

Still, I wasn't surprised when I recently read that more parents are opting out of having their teen daughters vaccinated for HPV – even though it's the most commonly sexually transmitted infection responsible for most of the cervical, anal and vaginal cancers we know today.

About 44 percent of parents in 2010 reported they'll skip the vaccine, compared to 40 percent who felt that way in 2008, according to a Mayo Clinic study. That's the opposite trend people expected three years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the HPV vaccine for young girls.

Today, only about one-third of eligible girls in the United States have received the vaccine. Parental refusal to immunize kids against preventable diseases like HPV is a growing and alarming trend, the study's authors warned.

I understand the fear. Google "HPV vaccine" today and, along with the National Cancer Institute, the CDC and even Dr. Oz supporting it, there is a smattering of anti-vaccination websites that pop up claiming the vaccine is unproven and putting kids at risk for everything from seizures and speech problems to death.

We all know it only takes one doctor or researcher to set off widespread panic among parents. Remember Andrew Wakefield's infamous paper in The Lancet? It's been 15 years since that study was retracted, with still no legitimate link found between childhood vaccinations and autism, yet more than 20 percent of the population still thinks that vaccines cause autism.

The last time I wrote about vaccines, I ended up having to de-friend a childhood friend on Facebook because she became furious and unleashed a torrent of personal attacks on my Facebook wall.

I understand that people get emotional when it comes to their kids' health. I think it's smart to question and to have conversations with your doctor so you feel comfortable about your choices.

I did a lot of reading before I committed to the HPV vaccine for both of my daughters because I had my own concerns.

The HPV vaccine is clearly new. It doesn't have the historical track record of the vaccinations we have for whooping cough, measles or polio. But the side effects that have been associated with it are the same as for all vaccines. Those scary reports about paralysis and death? Those were recorded because they happened within a reasonable timeframe of the person getting the vaccine, not because the vaccine was believed to have caused those horrible things. Multiple studies have found the vaccine to be free of serious side effects.

As parents, we are constantly weighing the pros and cons of our decisions. But the way I see it, the chance of my kids getting cancer later in life is much higher than the chance of them having a bizarre reaction to a vaccination.

If I can strengthen my kids' immune systems against something that can kill them then count me in. Just like a seat belt and a bike helmet (both also recommended by the CDC), the HPV vaccine has become a part of my daughters' childhoods. If I'm going to make a decision that could affect them for the rest of their lives, I'm going to err on the side of science.