February 23, 2015 — Many parents lack important information about the human papillomavirus and the HPV vaccine, according to a new survey by Planned Parenthood Federation of American and New York University's Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, Yahoo! Health reports (Gerson Uffalussy, Yahoo! Health, 2/18).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It is linked to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oral, penile and anal cancers, as well as genital warts.
CDC recommends that girls and boys begin the three-dose HPV vaccination series at age 11 or 12 and receive the three doses over an eight-month period. The vaccine can prevent the most common cancer-causing strains of the virus (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/5).
In a report released last year, CDC researchers found that 37.6% of girls ages 13 to 17 received all three doses of the HPV vaccine in 2013, compared with 33.4% in 2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of boys who received all three doses more than doubled to 13.9% in 2013 from 6.8% in 2012 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/25/14).
For the survey, researchers polled 1,663 children and young adults ages nine to 21 and their parents on their awareness of HPV, related cancers, and the vaccine's efficacy and safety.
The survey found that 30.7% of the parents said their children had received all three doses of the vaccine. In addition, 4.8% of parents had children who had received two out of three doses, while 6.7% had received one dose. Further, among children who had been vaccinated, only 14.6% received the inoculation at age 12 or younger, when the vaccine is more effective.
Misconceptions About Sexual Activity, Safety
PPFA Vice President of Education Leslie Kantor said, "It is really, really important for parents to understand that this vaccine is recommended at ages 11 or 12 not because anyone thinks kids are having sex at 11 or 12, but because we want to give the body time to mount an immune response that is strong and active before it has any chance of being exposed [to HPV]." She noted that there are "many, many studies that show there is no link between getting the HPV vaccine and starting to have sex earlier or having more sex."
Meanwhile, 40.6% of parents surveyed said they either had not yet decided whether to vaccinate their children against HPV or had decided that they would not have them vaccinated. Among those respondents, about 70% cited "safety concerns" as a reason why they were undecided on or against their children receiving the vaccine.
According to Jill Roark of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, "There have been no serious safety concerns linked to HPV vaccination."
Kantor said the survey "showed really clearly ... that one problem overall is that parents don't know a lot" about HPV, the risks of HPV, and the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. She added that there have been shortcomings in educating parents that vaccinating their children against HPV would "help protect their kids from cancer" when they are older (Yahoo! Health, 2/18).
For example, the survey found that 48.2% of parents did not know if HPV could cause cancer in boys and men, while 11.9% of respondents incorrectly responded that HPV could not lead to cancer in boys and men. Further, 21.7% of parents incorrectly responded that the vaccine was only recommended for girls (Planned Parenthood release, 2/19).