Although researchers at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic report increased usage of the human papillomavirus vaccine, recommended for teens to prevent the virus that causes cervical and or forms of cancer, they are disappointed the HPV vaccine hasn’t caught on quicker. According to a recent article published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly one third of girls aged 13 to 17 received the full series of three HPV-vaccine doses in 2010, up from 18 percent in 2008. But Mayo’s Robert Jacobson said he would have expected the vaccination rate to be closer to 60 percent by now, considering more than 80 percent of teens in the same age group received a booster for tetanus and pertussis in 2010, and more than 60 percent were vaccinated against viral meningitis.
“It went up but, frankly, not as much as we expected or hoped that it would,” Jacobson said. “Here we have this effective vaccine against a terrible disease and the public has the wrong view of it.”
HPV includes a family of sexually-transmitted viruses that have been linked to cancers off the cervix head and neck, as well as genital warts. The virus is passed through genital contact—in both vaginal and anal sex—but can also be passed during oral sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boys and girls receive a series of three vaccines before becoming sexually active so they have time to develop immunity. The first HPV vaccines were licensed in 2006, with strong evidence supporting the vaccine’s safety. But seven years later, many parents still express safety concerns, even though doctors recommend the vaccine.
Vanderbilt University’s William Shaffner says doctors need to begin vaccination discussions with parents earlier.
“Pediatricians are letting it go in the early teens years and bringing it up only later,” he told MedPage Today. “Then we’re missing some teens because they tend not to see the doctor as frequently in the late teens as they do around 11, 12, ansd 13.
“Pediatricians really need to continue to vaccine advocates,” Shaffner added.
In fact, according to the National Immunization Survey for Teens that was provided to parents from 2008 to 2010, HPV-vaccine safety concerns actually rose during the study period. While 4.5 percent of parents who opted against HPV vaccinations cited safety concerns in 2008, the number grew to 16.4 percent by 2010.
“We thought perhaps many parents would think the HPV vaccine would give kids permission to have sex, and therefore not allow their children to get it. But that wasn’t it,” explained the University of Oklahoma’s Paul Darden, who led a study on the parental surveys. “They seemed to be skeptical of its safety, which is odd, because it’s shown to be effective with few side effects. We have a vaccine that protects against cancer. Why not vaccinate your child? I don’t get it.”
A good deal of concern still focuses on a link between the HPV vaccine and teen promiscuity, however. But a 2012 Kaiser Permanente study of 1,200 girls in Georgia found no different in pregnancy or STD rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated girls. Still, 11 percent of parents surveyed in 2010 said the vaccination was unnecessary because their children were not yet sexually active. Expert claim such beliefs are just another example of the public’s misunderstanding of HPV and the vaccine.
“For the most part, almost every child becomes an adult who then has sexual activity,” Jacobson said. “Frankly, for parents to look at me and say, ‘My children won’t have sex and my children’s grandchildren won’t have sex’ just doesn’t make any sense.”