August 3, 2015 — The vaccination rate for the human papillomavirus remains lower than the rate of other vaccinations among U.S. teenagers, although it increased slightly last year, according to CDC data released Thursday, Reuters reports (Gumpert, Reuters, 7/30).
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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).
For the study, CDC analyzed data from the 2014 National Immunization Survey, which included data on 20,827 teenagers.
According to CDC, the proportion of girls ages 13 to 17 who received at least one dose of the immunization increased to 60%, up by 3.3 percentage points. Meanwhile, the percentage of boys in the same age group who received at least one dose of the vaccine increased to 41.7%, up by 8.1 percentage points.
Further, the study found that the percentage of girls who received all three doses of the vaccination increased by 2.9 percentage points, up to 39.7%. The percentage of boys in that age group who received all three doses increased by 8.2 percentage points, to 21.6% (Reuters, 7/30).
CDC found that about 40% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys have not received the vaccination (Yang, "Shots," NPR, 7/30). Meanwhile, the study found that 87.6% of U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 17 had received a Tdap immunization, which protects against diptheria, pertussis and tetanus (Reuters, 7/30). The rate marks an increase from 2013, when 84.7% received at least one Tdap shot. Further, the study found that the rate for the meningococcal vaccine increased to 79.3% in 2014, up from 76.6% in 2013.
Vaccination Rates Vary Widely
Anne Schuchat, who directs CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, called the increase in HPV vaccination rates "patchwork progress," adding, "There's quite a range in HPV vaccination coverage around the country."
According to NPR's "Shots," there is a 37.7% difference between the state with the highest HPV vaccination uptake -- Rhode Island, at 76% -- and the state with the lowest, Kansas, at 38%. Meanwhile, two cities -- Washington, D.C., and Chicago -- as well as four states -- Illinois, Montana, North Carolina and Utah -- all reported increases of around 20% ("Shots," NPR, 7/30).
The study also found that vaccination rates were higher among teens from families with lower incomes (Reuters, 7/30). Specifically, 67.2% of girls ages 13 to 17 whose family incomes fell below the federal poverty level received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 51.6% of boys from low-income families received the first dose. For teenagers whose family incomes were at or above the poverty line, uptake rates were 57.7% for girls and 39.5% for boys ("Shots," NPR, 7/30).
The trend was credited to public health programs that offer coverage for vaccinations for low-income residents, such as Vaccines for Children (Reuters, 7/30). In addition, Schuchat said providers might more strongly encourage vaccinations among low-income families because they are unsure if they will see the patients again to provide the immunizations at a later date ("Shots," NPR, 7/30).
Reasons Behind Lagging Vaccination Rates
Schuchat said the lagging rate likely is not linked to cost barriers, but rather to physicians' hesitation about recommending the HPV vaccine as forcefully as they do other immunizations.
Carol Baker, executive director of Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research, said, "The vaccine got off on the wrong foot with the public, but with physicians too because a fair number thought they would have to talk about sexual contact and they were reluctant to" (Reuters, 7/30). Further, according to NPR, some parents thought the vaccine would encourage risky sexual behaviors, although research has demonstrated it does not ("Shots," NPR, 7/30).