February 10, 2014 — Too few children are being vaccinated against the human papillomavirus in the U.S., where vaccination rates lag far behind those in Australia and Great Britain, according to a report published Monday by the President's Cancer Panel, the New York Times reports.
The report found that in 2012, about one-third of U.S. girls ages 13 to 15 and less than 7% of boys had received the full series of three injections.
The vaccine protects against HPV strains that can cause cancers of the anus, cervix, penis, vagina, vulva and areas close to the throat (Grady, New York Times, 2/10). The virus is spread through sexual activity.
According to CDC, vaccinating at least 80% of teen girls could help prevent 53,000 future cases of cervical cancer in girls living today.
The report also noted that the U.S. falls well behind other countries, such as Australia, where 71% of girls are fully vaccinated, and the United Kingdom, where 60% have received the full vaccination series.
Reasons for Low Rates
Panel Chair Barbara Rimer, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor, said physicians need to change the way they talk about the HPV vaccine. She added, "The conversation needs to be framed around cancer prevention, not sex."
Research shows that doctors treat the HPV vaccine differently than other recommended shots for children at that age, according to pediatrician Mary Anne Jackson, director of infectious diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, who was not involved in the report. Studies have found that parents tend to follow their pediatricians' recommendations on shots, Jackson said, adding that doctors should simply include the HPV vaccine in their series of shots for teens.
Jackson acknowledged that vaccinating teens against HPV presents certain challenges, including the need to administer three doses spaced at least two months apart. In addition, the three shots cost a total of around $400, making the series more costly than most other vaccinations. She noted that health plans tend to cover the vaccination.
Calls for Government Involvement
Rimer said state governments could help increase vaccination rates by allowing pharmacists to administer them, like flu shots.
In addition, the panel requested President Obama's involvement, saying his "support of widespread HPV vaccination starting today can help save thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives, and could forever alter the landscape for cancers related to HPV," adding, "No man or woman should have to suffer or die from cancer or other diseases when the means by which to prevent them is within our grasp" (Szabo, USA Today, 2/10).