Too few kids are getting HPV vaccines that protect them from a range of cancers, including cervical cancer and cancers of the throat and mouth, federal health officials said Thursday. And lackluster response to the vaccine might be because pediatricians just aren’t recommending it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The annual survey of how many U.S. children are getting vaccinated shows hardly any improvement in use of the HPV vaccine, which protects against the human papillomavirus that causes a range of cancers, as well as genital warts.
Both boys and girls are supposed to get three doses of the vaccine, starting at age 11 or 12. But only a third of girls who should have finished the series have received all three doses, and the record’s even worse for boys. While 57 percent of pre-teen or teen girls have received at least one dose of HPV, only 35 percent of boys have.
“It’s frustrating to report almost the same HPV vaccination coverage levels among girls for another year."
“We were disappointed with the overall findings,” said said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is barely any improvement over last year, she said.
“It’s frustrating to report almost the same HPV vaccination coverage levels among girls for another year,” Schuchat added. “Pre-teens need HPV vaccine today to be protected from HPV cancers tomorrow.”
The vaccine should be fully covered by health insurance, so cost is not an issue. Neither is safety— the CDC says after 67 million vaccinations have been given, there is no sign of any serious side-effects. The main side-effect is fainting — something common in teens getting any vaccine, so they’re advised to rest for 15 minutes before leaving the clinic or office where they got the shot.
Doctors and nurses who see the children and teens eligible for the vaccine need to do more to make sure they get immunized, Schuchat said.
“When a teen (has been) in the doctor’s office and received another vaccine but not HPV, that is a missed opportunity,” she said. If every teen who got a vaccine received an HPV dose at the same time, 91 percent of eligible girls would have been vaccinated by now, CDC said.
“Our system is clearly missing many opportunities to vaccinate against HPV related cancers."
“Our system is clearly missing many opportunities to vaccinate against HPV related cancers,” Schuchat told reporters in a telephone briefing.
CDC asked parents why they had not vaccinated their sons and daughters. “One of the top five reasons parents listed was that it hadn’t been recommended,” she said.
Teens are getting other vaccines, notably against meningitis, and the Tdap booster for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. CDC found that nearly 86 percent of adolescents had received at least one dose of Tdap vaccine.
Most school districts do not require HPV vaccine for attendance, but Schuchat said the real chance to make a difference lies with pediatricians. “We have very good coverage with the other vaccines and not all states require all of the vaccines, so the key, we think, is if they are in the doctor’s office for something else and they have a chance to get vaccinated,” Schuchat said.
About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV and the CDC says 14 million people become newly infected each year with the cancer-causing forms of HPV. CDC says most sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, but the infections usually clear up without causing harm.
The vaccine works. Infections with the human papillomavirus tied to cervical cancer fell by more than half in U.S. teen girls after the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006, despite low rates of uptake, one study found.
There are 109 known different types of human papillomaviruses and two-thirds of Americans have some type. They cause warts and other lesions and two in particular, HPV 16 and HPV 18, cause cancers of the cervix, anus and penis, as well as the mouth and throat. Types 6 and 11 can cause lesions and genital warts, and there are vaccines that protect against either two or four of these types that are now recommended for all children.