Although there has been a slight increase in human papillomavirus vaccination coverage among adolescents since 2012, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that vaccine coverage in this population remains “unacceptably low”.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. There are more than 150 types of HPV, 40 of which can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Low-risk HPV types, such as HPV-6 and HPV-11, can cause warts around the genitals or anus. But high-risk types, including HPV-16 and HPV-18, account for approximately 5% of all cancers worldwide.
Specifically, HPV-16 and HPV-18 account for around 70% of all cervical cancers and almost 50% of all vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers. HPV-16 is also accountable for more than 50% of throat cancers.
There are currently two vaccines available for HPV, which are administered in three shots over 6 months. Cervarix and Gardasil are used for the prevention of cervical cancer, while Gardasil can also protect against anal, vulvar andvaginal cancers and genital warts.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 are vaccinated against HPV. The vaccination is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.
HPV vaccination coverage increased in 2012-13, but remains too low
But despite these recommendations, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report - estimates that in 2013, only 57% of girls and 35% of boys ages 13-17 years received one or more doses of the HPV vaccine.
The figures came from results of the CDC’s National Immunization Survey-Teen (NIS-Teen), which includes vaccine information via telephone surveys for adolescents aged 13-17 years from across the US.
The CDC investigators did, however, find that HPV vaccination coverage increased slightly among girls between 2012-13, from 53.8% to 57.3%, although only a third received the complete three doses. Teenage boys saw a greater increase in vaccination coverage, from 20.8% to 34.6%.
But still, the CDC say HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents is too low, particularly when compared with coverage to other vaccination types. For example, another report from the CDC found that almost 86% of adolescents received one dose of the Tdap vaccine last year, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
A 10-year national objective in the US – set in 2010 by Healthy People 2020 – is to reach 80% HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents. These latest statistics suggest there is a lot of work to be done. But lead author of the report, Shannon Stokley, assistant director for science at the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, says they also show the 80% vaccination coverage target is realistic:
“The data on missed vaccination opportunities tells us that it is possible. When we look at the most recent cohort of girls that turned 13, 91% of them had a health care encounter where they could have started the HPV vaccine series before their 13th birthday.
Also, 86% of 13-17 year-olds have received the Tdap vaccine. What these numbers tell us is that preteens and teens are getting to the doctor and they are getting vaccinated, but they aren’t always receiving the HPV vaccine.”
Why is HPV vaccination coverage still low?
From NIS-Teen, the CDC investigators were also able to establish some reasons as to why HPV vaccination coverage remains low among adolescents.
They found that clinicians’ recommendations significantly influenced a parent’s decision of whether to have their children vaccinated against HPV.
Of parents whose daughters were vaccinated, 74% said they received a recommendation from their doctor, while 52% of parents who did not have their daughters vaccinated received a doctor’s recommendation. Among parents whose sons were vaccinated, 72% received a recommendation, while only 26% of parents whose sons were not vaccinated received a recommendation.
Based on these findings, Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, believes health care professionals are key in boosting HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents in the US.
“Pediatricians and family physicians are uniquely situated to prevent missed opportunities by giving HPV vaccine during the same visit they give Tdap and meningococcal vaccines,” she adds.
Parents also revealed that concerns over the safety of the HPV vaccine deterred them from vaccinating their children. However, the CDC stress that – after analyzing national postlicensure vaccine safety data – no serious safety concerns have been linked to the HPV vaccine in the 8 years it has been available.
The investigators point out that the most commonly reported side effects of the vaccine include dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache, and injection-site reactions – including pain, redness and swelling.
When we asked Stokely what needs to be done to alleviate parents’ concerns about vaccinating their children against HPV, she replied:
“Parents need to see information in mainstream media that HPV vaccination is very effective at preventing infection with the types of HPV that cause the most cancers. Parents also need to hear that the HPV vaccine is safe and that it is recommended to be given when their children are 11 or 12 years old, before their risk of acquiring an HPV infection increases.”
In conclusion to the report, the CDC say they will continue efforts to team up with state and local immunization programs, cancer organizations, professional organizations and other stakeholders in an attempt to educate parents and health care professionals about the importance of the HPV vaccine, adding:
“Collaborative efforts remain critical to promoting HPV vaccination so that the nation’s adolescents are protected against vaccine-preventable, HPV-associated cancers.”
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming that two thirds of healthy American adults areinfected with one or more of 109 strains of HPV.*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.