Only 34 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have gotten a vaccine that protects against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease, and can prevent cervical cancer. That's the finding of a Washington University School of Medicine study that analyzed data on 1,709 girls from a national telephone survey called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. From the release:
"This was the first year the survey asked about HPV vaccination," [first author Sandi L. Pruitt] says. "That portion of the survey was optional, and only six states opted to use it. Ideally, we'd like to know what's happening in more states, but these six states represent a good cross-section of urban and rural, rich and poor, and they do include girls from racial and ethnic groups that closely mirror the rest of the country."
When I heard about the study, which appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the first person I thought of was Stanford's Paula Hillard, MD, an expert in adolescent gynecology. As it turns out, the one-third figure isn't a big surprise to her: she told me she sees "many moms who think their daughter isn't 'ready' or doesn't need the vaccine." She said the hesitation often "has something to do with sex" and parents not thinking (or wanting to think) their daughter will ever have it.
Hillard, who has had financial relationships with the two companies that manufacture Gardasil and Cervavix in the past, said she strongly believes more girls should be vaccinated. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and CDC recommend routine vaccination of girls aged 11 and 12, she pointed out, and there are great benefits to the vaccine:
"Preventing cervical cancer... saves heartbreak and pain, and it is really a wonderful thing to be able to significantly lower the risks of cancer."
Via AOL Health