The prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is both a major cause of cervical cancer and the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, has been cut in half among teenage girls. Because the United States has such a low HPV vaccination rate in comparison to other countries, the reports came as a welcome surprise to vaccine advocates. Consider that Britain and Denmark have vaccination rates above 80 percent, as does Rwanda in East Africa, while only the vaccination rate in America was only around 35 percent in 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although only one third of American teenage girls reported receiving the full course of three shots, the vaccines have had a large impact on eliminating HPV infection. According to officials at the CDC, infection with the viral strains that cause cancer dropped to 3.6 percent among girls ages 14 to 19 in 2010, from 7.2 percent in 2006.
The steep decrease in the infection rate has come at a time when all of us involved in public health have been increasingly concerned about the anti-vaccination sentiments across the country. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 44 percent of parents said they intended not to vaccinate their daughters in 2010, compared to 40 percent in 2008.
ACSH S Dr. Elizabeth Whelan emphasized that although vaccination clearly prevents HPV infection, some worry that due to the pre-teen and adolescent age of those recommended for it, that it might promote promiscuity and therefore opt out. There is absolutely no basis for this fear, however, and we should all hope that this decrease in infection will spur stronger support for vaccinations nationwide.