Number of HPV vaccines given to girls stagnant
A vaccine that protects women against cervical cancer has proved a tougher sell than health workers had hoped, with vaccination rates stalling from 2011 to 2012.
Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all girls 11 and older get three doses of the human papillomavirus vaccine, which protects against 70 percent of cervical cancers that can appear 20 to 40 years later. The vaccine also protects against 90 percent of genital warts.
Vaccination rates increased substantially in the first five years the vaccine was available. By 2011, 53 percent of girls had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. In 2012, however, the increase stopped, staying at just 53.8 percent, according to a paper in this week's edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the CDC in Atlanta.
The vaccination “coverage for girls getting this anti-cancer vaccine has not increased at all from one year to the next. Zero,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said on Thursday. “We're dropping the ball. We're missing opportunities to give the HPV vaccine. That needs to change to protect girls from cervical cancer.”
The fact it hasn't increased “is a huge disappointment, but I'm confident that we will turn it around,” Frieden said.
The vaccine is highly effective. A study released in June found that the vaccine had decreased the incidence of the cancer-causing virus among teenage girls by 56 percent, despite being available only since 2006.
The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over six months or longer. CDC recommends that both girls and boys receive all three doses before they become sexually active. Because the recommendation for boys was only added in 2011, data were only collected for girls.
The reasons behind the standstill are varied. A 2012 survey of families with teen girls who said they didn't plan on having their daughters vaccinated found that 19 percent said their daughter didn't need the vaccine, 14 percent hadn't had the vaccine recommended to them by their doctor, 13 percent had safety concerns about the vaccine, 12 percent didn't have knowledge of the vaccine or the disease, and 10 percent said their daughter wasn't sexually active.
“When we asked parents why they haven't gotten their daughter vaccinated, one of the top reasons was their doctor didn't recommend it,” Frieden said.
“It's up to doctors to have open, honest and frank discussions with parents about the importance of this vaccine and to ensure their patients get vaccinated,” said Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also during the briefing.
“This vaccine is preventive,” said Shannon Stokley, one of the paper's authors. She is with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “If you do have an infection later in life, you can't get the vaccine to make it go away. We're so lucky that we have a vaccine to prevent these cancers — there aren't many diseases where we can do that.”
If every girl 11 and older who saw a health care worker since 2007 had been encouraged to get the vaccine, coverage could have reached 92 percent, the paper stated.