Making Strides in HPV Vaccination but Still a Long Way to Go

bPhoto: Melissa P
by Hank Dart

A federal report released at the end of July shows promising trends in rates of HPV vaccination in United States adolescents, but rates varied greatly between certain regions and left much room for improvement overall, especially for boys.

The recommended schedule for HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination, which protects against cervical and other cancers, is three doses preferably beginning in early adolescence.   
Between 2013 and 2014, the report found that the number of girls ages 13 – 17 receiving all three doses of the vaccine increased around three full percentage points, from 37 percent to close to 40 percent.  Boys aged 13 – 17 increased by an even greater amount – 8 percentage points – but remained low compared to girls – at around 22 percent.   
Washington DC was the state/district with the highest rates of girls receiving three full doses, at 57 percent, with Tennessee having the lowest rate, at 20 percent.
The report goes on to highlight that most regions with increases in rates of vaccination developed and put in place multifaceted strategies specifically intended to improve use of the vaccine.  Among other efforts, these included approaches like, provider education, public outreach, automated vaccination reminders, and integration of vaccination goals into cancer control plans. 
Overall, these latest numbers are heartening but show that there is still a great deal that needs to be done.  Only 20 percent of adolescent boys and 40 percent of adolescent girls in the United States are getting the full protection from the HPV vaccine.  Given that HPV is a common infection and the primary cause of cervical cancer – as well as a risk factor for vaginal, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers – it’s a great missed opportunity for prevention. 
Coverage of other standard vaccinations in these age groups in the United States can reach as high as 88 percent.  And that type of coverage should be possible with the HPV vaccine, for both boys and girls.  It will, however, take a concerted effort to do so.  These new numbers show it will most likely be worth it.

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