HPV vaccination rates losing ground, CDC reports

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Vaccination levels among teen girls against the human papilloma virus are not good. The Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday that there has been zero vaccination progress between 2011 and 2012, the latest year for which the agency has such data.

“We're dropping the ball. We're missing our opportunity to give HPV vaccines and that needs to change to protect girls from cervical cancer,” the CDC's director Tom Frieden said at the teleconference. HPV has been linked to cervical cancer, penile cancer, and according to a National Cancer Institute study released last week, throat cancer, as well as others.

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for both girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 12. Frieden said the HPV vaccination rate among girls was 33.4% last year, compared to 34.8% in 2011. He says an 80% vaccination rate among girls would mean 53,000 fewer cervical cancer cases among today's pre-teen girls.

Vaccination barriers stem from both sides of the doctor-patient relationship. The CDC's survey indicated that many parents said they did not vaccinate their children because their doctors did not recommend it and that parents were worried that HPV vaccination would essentially condone early sexual activity. Frieden says this is despite studies that show no correlation between HPV vaccination status and sexual activity. “It does not open the door to sex. It closes the door on cancer,” Frieden said.

President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Thomas McInerny said that doctors need to tell patients why they are being urged to vaccinate their children, adding that the explanation needs to note that “we don't wait for exposure to occur with any other vaccine,” and that HPV is no different.

At the same time, McInerny said doctors could tap into resources that can help cover information that timed office visits cannot cover. He recommended adopting tactics like texting vaccination reminders so children receive all three doses.

Frieden said checking HPV vaccination status at every office visit could also help raise vaccination rates, to help patients complete the three-dose regimen.

While the CDC and AAP focused on statistics and prevention, the media audience had other concerns—mainly safety. Frieden and McInerny said the vaccine was safe and guidelines encourage patients to stick around 15 minutes after a dose for just-in-case monitoring.

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