Following the 2006 introduction of a vaccine against cancer-causing human papillomavirus, rates of HPV in teen girls have plummeted to nearly half, a new study found on Wednesday.
The Journal of Infectious Diseases reports that HPV infection in girls ages 14 to 19 dropped from 11.5 percent for the years 2003-2006 to 5.1 percent for 2007-2010. Since HPV can lead to cervical cancer, the results also could herald a drop in cancer rates for girls in this age range, too.
The study illustrates a great advancement in public health, but it also underlines the consequences for those huge numbers of women and girls who are still not getting their vaccinations; in 2011, only 35 percent of girls ages 13-17 received all three shots in the vaccination series, and only 30 percent of women ages 19-26 had received the vaccine.
Fear-mongering and conspiracy theories over the side effects of the HPV vaccine are a major reason that inoculation rates are so low. While the Centers for Disease control have deemed the shots safe, and especially effective for young girls, 16 percent of parents report not letting their children get the shots for fear of side effects. In fact, incidents of cancer from HPV are rising in the U.S., and the CDC says rates of inoculation are “unacceptably low.”
These dangerous theories are fueled by conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who campaigned on her insistence that HPV vaccines cause “mental retardation.” Bachmann also got her fellow presidential contender Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to backpeddal his support for his state’s legislation that required Texan girls to get the vaccine. Another Republican Governor, South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley, vetoed a bill that would have made HPV vaccines free of cost to girls in her state.
*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.