Low HPV vaccination rate could mean danger later for teenagers

September 1, 2011

Pediatricians are in an ideal position to turn around the low rate of vaccination against human papillomavirus in teenaged girls, according to a new government study. Nearly two-thirds of American teenaged girls have yet to receive the recommended 3-dose vaccination. Here are some proven methods for getting them the protection they need.

Nearly two-thirds of American teenaged girls remain at greater risk for cervical and other cancers because they have not received the recommended 3-dose vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new government study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that just 49% of adolescent females have begun the series and 32% have completed it.

“Our progress is stagnating, and if we don’t make major changes, far too many girls in this generation will remain vulnerable to cervical cancer later in life,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Persistent HPV infection causes almost all cervical cancer, which kills 4,000 women each year in the United States. “HPV is so common that most sexually active adults become infected at some point in their lives,” according to the CDC. The HPV vaccines target the virus types that cause 70% of cervical cancer.

Schuchat recommended that pediatricians use every visit by an adolescent as an opportunity to administer the 3 recommended teen vaccines-tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis; meningococcal conjugate; and HPV. Approved HPV vaccines can safely be given to patients who have come into the office for treatment of minor acute illnesses such as upper respiratory tract infections or diarrhea, with or without fever.

Vaccination is recommended for all girls aged 11 or 12 years but can be administered as early as age 9. Catch-up vaccination is recommended for adolescent girls and young women who have not received all 3 doses of the vaccine series.

A reminder/recall system to initiate and complete recommended teen vaccines can help pediatricians increase vaccination rates among their patients. Promotion of a reminder system was 1 of the 3 initiatives common to the states with the highest vaccination rates, according to the CDC. In addition, the CDC suggests that pediatricians increase HPV vaccination rates by strongly recommending the HPV vaccine and educating parents about the risk of HPV infection and the benefit of vaccination.

The quadrivalent vaccine has a nearly 100% efficacy rate in preventing cervical, vulvar, and vaginal precancers and genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18; the bivalent vaccine has a 93% efficacy rate in preventing cervical precancers caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

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