CDC says HPV vaccination rates among teens "unacceptably low"

CDC says HPV vaccination rates among teens "unacceptably low"
Image from from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library.

Officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that they are disappointed in the low number of teens ages 13 to 17 receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

In a survey published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, investigators estimate that 57% of girls and 35% of boys had received one of three doses of HPV vaccine in 2013. The vaccine is recommended for both genders.

The CDC describes the HPV vaccination rates among teens as "unacceptably low" in a press release.

In contrast, an estimated 86% of teens have received the Tdap vaccine and 78% have received the meningitis vaccine, both of which are also recommended vaccines for adolescents.  The CDC's national target for the vaccines is 80%.

The percentage of teens receiving the recommended Tdap and meningitis vaccines suggest that teens are specifically avoiding the HPV vaccine and not vaccines all together.

The reasons parents gave for not vaccinating against HPV were

  • Not receiving a clinician's recommendation for it;
  • Safety concerns;
  • Their child's lack of sexual activity;
  • belief that it is not necessary;
  • lack of knowledge about it.

The CDC recommends that girls and boys be vaccinated starting at age 11 or 12, so they can develop immunity before they are sexually active and because preteens have a higher immune response to the HPV vaccine than older teens.

It's worth noting that this study addressed whether teens had received one or more doses of HPV vaccine. A series of three doses received over six month is recommended.

Each year in the United States, about 19,000 cancers caused by HPV occur in women, and cervical cancer is the most common, according to a CDC study.  That same study found that approximately 8,000 cancers caused by HPV occur each year in men in the United States, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers are the most common. HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus.

You can find information about the Gardasil HPV vaccine from the CDC here and check out your state’s legislation on the issue here.

Vaccination is a very personal issue that bring about strong feelings, and parents weigh many factors in deciding whether to vaccinate and if so, against what. (This is yet another way in which parenting a tween mirrors parenting a toddler.) The HPV vaccine clearly involves a different set of factors for families than the Tdap or other recommended vaccines, and the vaccine is not winning over parents as quickly as the CDC would like.

Where do you stand? Would you have your preteen vaccinated?

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