November 24, 2015 — Rhode Island health officials have announced that, as of Sept. 1, a majority of seventh graders in the state have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, the Providence Journal reports (Salit, Providence Journal, 11/19).
The HPV vaccine protects against several strains of the virus, 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.
Virginia and Washington, D.C., also require children to receive the vaccine. Rhode Island finalized the immunization decision in summer 2014. Under the Rhode Island rule, students entering seventh grade must receive the vaccine unless their parent seeks a medical or religious exemption (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).
Details of Vaccination Rates
Rhode Island Department of Health data compiled on 85% of Rhode Island seventh-grade students in public and private schools show that 72.5% have received at least the first of three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. According to the Journal, the state law is relatively new, which means that the only comparable state statistic is one from CDC in 2014. CDC estimated that among children ages 13 to 17 in the state in 2014, 76% of girls and 69% of boys had received the first HPV vaccine dose.
The new data also show that families more frequently claimed religious exemptions for the HPV vaccine than for other vaccines. Overall, religious exemptions rose from about 0.05% for the 2014-2015 school year to 4.47% for the 2015-2016 school year. Of those, nearly 70% -- or 450 -- were exemptions for the HPV vaccine.
Health officials noted that 2,430 of 12,383 students whose data were compiled were listed as not being up-to-date on their HPV vaccines. RIDH spokesperson Joseph Wendelken noted that, as it was the start of the school year, some students might have been scheduled to receive their vaccinations at upcoming doctors' appointments.
Separately, according to the data, the vaccination rate was: 98.5% for hepatitis B; 98.6% for measles, mumps and rubella; 97% for chicken pox; 86% for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis; and 84% for meningococcal disease.
Health Department Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said she and her colleagues "were thrilled," and called the vaccination rates "extremely encouraging." However, she added, "We still need to push ourselves. The immunization rates tend to steadily increase in each subsequent year. We know we will get better from here."
She added that she has "every expectation the exemption rate will continue to improve" as the health department and physicians continue to "address misinformation that may be out there about the vaccine."
Meanwhile, Wendelken said, "It's clear to us that ultimately parents were looking at the science and realizing both the value of the vaccine and the serious health consequences that can result from HPV" (Providence Journal, 11/19).