As we wrote a couple of years ago, adolescent vaccination rates for several diseases were up, and although the one for human papillomavirus (HPV) was among them, its rates lagged the others.
Being vaccinated against HPV before a person is sexually active protects girls from developing cervical cancer later in life and can protect boys from genital warts and penile and anal cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
Despite the less than ideal vaccination numbers, there’s good news: The HPV vaccine is reducing the prevalence of the virus dramatically in teenage girls.
As reported by NPR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a study showing that in the first four years of immunization, infections from the four strains of the virus targeted by the vaccines fell by more than half among U.S. 14- to 19-year-olds.
The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, found no decrease in the HPV strains covered by the vaccine in other age groups, which supports the idea that the vaccine is responsible for the decrease among teenagers. Also supporting the association is the fact that researchers did not find that sexual activity among girls in the target population had decreased; still, the prevalence of HPV declined from nearly 12% to slightly more than 5%.
Despite the CDC’s vigorous promotion of getting kids vaccinated before they become sexually active, many parents resist, somehow thinking that being immunized is the same thing as giving permission to have sex. Others are wary in general of vaccines, an attitude we’ve addressed here, ( “More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do with Autism”) and here. (“Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective.”)
Federal health officials, according to NPR, were surprised at the significant decrease, considering that only about 1 in 3 girls in this age group has received the full three-dose course of the vaccine. About half have received a single dose.
The CDC recommends that girls get the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12, but females as old as 26 are urged to get the three-shot course if they have not received the vaccine earlier. The recommendation is the same for boys, except that the “catch-up” vaccination is recommended only until 21.
The cost, says NPR, runs $128 to $135 a dose, or around $400 for the full course, but it’s covered by many insurers, and Vaccines for Children, a federal program, provides it free for qualified patients.
The CDC’s goal is to get 80 percent of adolescents fully vaccinated. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Friedan told NPR, “Of girls alive today between the ages of zero and 13, there will be 50,000 more cases of cancer if we don't increase the rates to 80%. And for every single year we delay in getting to 80%, another 4,400 women are going to develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes — even with good screening programs."