This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 18, 2013.
It’s a vaccine against cancer. It’s widely available and recommended for all teens in the United States. Side effects are few and mild. But the majority of American youth aren’t getting the advised doses of the HPV vaccine, and the United States lags far behind the immunization rates of several other Western countries.
HPV, human papillomavirus, is responsible for up to 90 percent of cervical and anal cancers, as well as other genital cancers in men and women, genital warts and a growing number of head and neck cancers. The virus is sexually transmitted, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the three-dose vaccine series for girls and boys starting at age 11 or 12, before they’re likely to be sexually active. However, people up to age 26 can still get the vaccine.
Australia and the United Kingdom have school-based vaccine programs, and the full HPV vaccination rate for teenage girls approaches 80 percent – more than double the rate in the United States. Here, it’s the “sexually transmitted” part that seems to be getting in the way, according to a survey in the journal Pediatrics.
The study showed that the number of American parents who do not plan to vaccinate their daughters is rising, primarily because they don’t think it’s necessary, they worry about side effects, or their daughters aren’t sexually active and parents don’t want to encourage sexual behavior. Another Pediatrics study in 2012 showed that HPV-vaccinated teen girls were not more likely to be sexually active than unvaccinated girls.
Here’s a look at HPV vaccinations in the United States, by the numbers:
The percentage of American girls ages 13-17 who had received all three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine in 2012. The percentage that was statistically unchanged from 2011, according to CDC data. Fifty-four percent of girls in that age range had received at least one of the three doses.
The percentage of American boys ages 13-17 who had received all three recommended HPV doses in 2012. Almost 21 percent of boys had received at least one dose, up from 8.3 percent in 2011. The CDC began recommending the vaccine for boys in 2011, and for girls in 2006.
The percentage of teenage girls in California who had received all three HPV vaccine doses in 2012. Among the same age range, 65 percent had received at least one dose. For teenage boys in California, the percentages were 12 and 29, respectively – all above the national average.
The percentage of parents in a 2010 survey in the journal Pediatrics who said they did not intend to vaccinate their teenage daughters against HPV despite doctors’ recommendations. It marked an increase from 40 percent in 2008. The leading reason given was the vaccine was “not needed/not necessary” followed by “safety concerns/side effects.”