September 1st, 2011

Many Teens Not Vaccinated Against HPV


Only about half of US teen girls have been vaccinated against the forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) that are associated with cervical cancer. These findings were recently reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) consist of more than 100 different viruses. Some types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet; others cause genital warts; and some have been linked with cancer, most notably cervical cancer.

There are currently two FDA-approved vaccines that protect against the types of HPV associated with cervical cancer. These are: Gardasil® (quadrivalent human papillomavirus [types 6, 11, 16, 18] recombinant vaccine), which prevents infection with four types of HPV—types 6, 11, 16, and 18; and Cervarix® (human papillomavirus bivalent [types 16 and 18] recombinant vaccine) , which targets HPV types 16 and 18. HPV types 16 and 18 cause roughly 70% of all cases of cervical cancer, and HPV types 6 and 11 account for roughly 90% of genital warts.

A 2010 study conducted by the CDC used a telephone survey to question parents of 19,000 teens ages 13 to 17 about their children’s vaccination history. Vaccination rates for HPV among teen girls lagged behind those of other routine shots. Specifically, two-thirds of teens had received the vaccine for bacterial meningitis and another for meningitis and tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, whereas only 49% of girls had begun the series of three shots for HPV. Even fewer—one-third—had received all three shots.

There was also variation in vaccination rate by state. Rhode Island and Washington had the highest rates for HPV vaccination (about 70% for at least the first shot), and Idaho had the lowest rate at about 29%.

There are several possible explanations for the lower rates of HPV vaccination: The shots can be expensive and require three separate visits to the doctor—the vaccine must be given three times over a six-month period. As well, because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, parents may be delaying their daughter’s vaccination until she becomes sexually active. This is a mistake, as the HPV vaccine is only effective when received before a girl’s first exposure to the virus. As well, some parents may not feel ready to discuss sexuality with their daughters.

As a result of low rate of HPV vaccination among teenage girls, more girls and young women will be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer later in life.  Public health efforts that educate parents about the importance of the HPV vaccine are therefore needed.

Reference: National and state vaccination coverage among adolescents aged 13 through 17 years—United States, 2010. MMWR. August 26, 2011 / 60(33);1117-1123.

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Tags: Cervical Cancer, News, Screening/Prevention Cervical Cancer, Uncategorized