A recent study from Duke University’s School of Medicine found that the available HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, don’t prevent the HPV infections common in black women. Gardasil and Cervarix protect against HPV 16, HPV 18, HPV 6 and HPV 11 — strains that are notorious for causing cervical cancers. The only problem? HPV 16 and 18 occur more in white women than black women, who tend to show HPV subtypes 33, 35, 58, and 68. So while white women might also not be protected from all strains by the HPV vaccine, they are certainly in a much safer position than black women.

“HPV 16 and 18 occur less frequently in African-Americans than in whites,” Dr. Cathrine Hoyo, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine, told Health Day. Duke’s study looked at 600 abnormal pap smears and found that almost 86 percent of the women examined had detectable HPV. Yet, as Hoyo explained, “African-Americans had half the HPV 16 and 18 frequency as whites did.”

As Bustle reported last summer, this disparity may be the reason that African-American women are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer…It’s upsetting that Gardasil leaves many black women without adequate protection against HPV and cervical cancer. Conflating the healthcare needs of white women with those of black women keeps us from accessing adequate treatment in multiple areas, and this is especially troubling when it comes to HPV. Had there been funding for a vaccine specifically designed for my black, female body, a shot that protects my body as well as it does white women, I might very well be HPV-free today.

What It’s Like to Have HPV: How the Vaccine Failed to Protect Me as a Black Woman, by Evette Dionne

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