The real barrier to HPV vaccination: neglect by teens doctors to advise them

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The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine before they become sexually active. Yet the vaccination rates continue to be low. According to the 2011 National Immunization Survey among teens, only 35 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 received all three doses of the vaccine.

In order to further understand the reasons behind these low numbers, researcher Dawn Holman and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta looked at data from 55 studies focused on barriers to vaccination among adolescents ages 11 to 17. Among those studies looking at barriers from a healthcare provider s point of view, responses largely focused on parents attitudes, cost, and lack of insurance coverage. However, when looking at barriers from a parent s point of view, the most common reason given for not vaccinating a child was the lack of a recommendation from a healthcare provider. Many parents also wanted more information from healthcare providers regarding the vaccine. And of course other barriers included cost, worries about safety and the age of the child. Furthermore, in the studies looking at barriers specifically to males getting the vaccine, the main barrier was lack of awareness of the benefit to males.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross comments: It is imperative that the number of young people of both genders receiving the HPV vaccine must be increased. And this study clearly shows that at least one major barrier is fixable. Doctors should be routinely recommending this vaccine to their adolescent patients before the onset of sexual activity (and the exposure to HPV which almost universally follows) and should make sure that they clearly educate patients and their parents regarding the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine.

And another study shows that such protection should be provided, the earlier the better. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reported that the HPV vaccine may not be as effective if one has already developed abnormalities on the cervix. According to Dr. Salaheddin M. Mahmud of the University of Manitoba and colleagues, A significant percentage of vaccinated women may or may not be protected ¦especially if they were vaccinated at older age or had abnormal cytology before vaccination. She continues, These findings affirm the importance of vaccination before any significant exposure to HPV occurs and underscore the need for screening programs that cover all sexually active women, even if they were vaccinated.