July 16, 2015 — Eight years after CDC issued an advisory recommendation that all children be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, very few states have adopted policies requiring children to have the immunization, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, MedPage Today reports (Lupkin, MedPage Today, 7/14).
The vaccine protects against several strains of HPV, which can lead to cervical, anal, penile and throat cancer. The first vaccine became available in 2006. Shortly thereafter, CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended vaccination for all children ages 11 or 12 (Doyle, Reuters, 7/15).
According to MedPage Today, the federal Healthy People program aims to have 80% of U.S. children ages 13 to 15 vaccinated against HPV by 2020. As of 2013, 37.6% of adolescent females and 13.9% of adolescent males had received all three doses of the vaccine (MedPage Today, 7/14).
For the study, the researchers compared the number of states that required the HPV vaccine eight years after the CDC recommendation was issued with the number of states that required other vaccinations eight years after they had been recommended by CDC (Reuters, 7/15).
About eight years after the HPV vaccination recommendation was issued, only Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., had laws requiring school-age children to receive the vaccine. According to MedPage Today, Rhode Island's law was passed in 2014 and will not take effect until August of this year (MedPage Today, 7/14).
Further, study co-author Jason Schwartz of Princeton University noted that Virginia and Washington, D.C., have broad exemptions to the requirement that permit school attendance even if parents choose not to vaccinate against HPV (Reuters, 7/15).
However, a CDC representative noted that certain areas have high vaccination rates despite not having mandatory vaccination requirements for schools. For example, 77% of adolescent girls in Rhode Island have received at least one of the three-shot vaccination series (MedPage Today, 7/14).
By contrast, the researchers found that eight years after CDC recommended children be vaccinated against Hepatitis B as well as varicella, 36 states and Washington, D.C., required the Hepatitis B vaccination, while 38 states and Washington, D.C., required the varicella vaccination (Reuters, 7/15).
Vanderbilt University's William Schaffner, who was not involved in the study, expressed concern about the few HPV vaccination requirements, noting, "When you think about how this is a vaccine that is remarkably safe and remarkably effective, that's not a good record." He said the discrepancy in vaccination laws could be linked to misconceptions about the HPV vaccine. Schaffner added that following the approval of the vaccine, many people focused on HPV's transmission as opposed to the vaccine's ability to prevent a virus that leads to cervical cancer.
However, Schwartz noted that several studies have found that the vaccine does not result in more risky sexual behavior and that it is effective and safe (MedPage Today, 7/14). A CDC spokesperson noted that since the agency recommended the vaccine, "there has been a 56 percent reduction in vaccine type HPV infections among teen girls in the U.S., even with very low HPV vaccination rates" and "fewer teens are getting genital warts."
Schwartz said, "Support for the vaccination has consistently emphasized recently that this should be treated like any other vaccination," adding, "We find that the public health community is not following its own good advice, there are clear differences compared to these other vaccines" (Reuters, 7/15).