It’s a virus that is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer but a new study by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers indicates that only about half of the girls receive the vaccine at the recommended age to best protect themselves.
Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is responsible for 99.7 percent of cervical cancers and several other cancers. The HPV vaccine protects against 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that girls get the vaccine when they are 11 to 12, because it is most effective when it is given before girls become sexually active. The question is - how many girls actually receive the vaccine at the recommended age?
The UTMB study indicated that, among those who were vaccinated, only 14 percent of girls began the three-dose vaccine series at the CDC’s recommended age of 11 to 12 in 2008. By 2012, this proportion rose to 56 percent.
However, this means that almost half of the surveyed teenage girls still received the vaccine older than 12. Researchers are not certain how effective the vaccine is when it is given after this age. These trends did not differ by race/ethnicity.
The research team, led by UTMB’s Mahbubur Rahman, associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, analyzed data from the annual National Immunization Survey of Teens conducted by the CDC. The CDC data tracked information from 2008 to 2012 on girls’ ages when the vaccine series was started and completed. The UTMB study recently was published in the journal Vaccine.
HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over 6 months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that HPV infection can cause. Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) protect against cervical cancers in women. One vaccine (Gardasil) also protects against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Both vaccines are available for females. Only Gardasil is available for males.
HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active with another person. That’s why HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.
Who else should get the HPV vaccine?
In addition to girls and boys aged 11 or 12 years, HPV vaccines are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger, teen girls and young women through age 26, as well as teen boys and young men through age 21.
The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with a man). It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems (including people living with HIV/AIDS) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
“Rates of HPV infection increase significantly every year for young people between 14 and 24, so vaccination at a young age is very important,” said Rahman. “It’s important that parents and health care providers are aware of the importance of early HPV vaccination to ensure that girls receive this vaccination at the CDC’s recommended age.”
HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet
Two vaccines are available to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause most cervical cancers. These vaccines are bivalent vaccine (Cervarix) and quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil). One of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil, also prevents HPV types that cause most genital warts. Gardasil also has been shown to prevent some cancers of the anus, vulva (area around the opening of the vagina), and vagina. Both vaccines are given in 3 shots over 6 months.
Why is the HPV vaccine important?
Genital HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it. HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. There are about 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women. Most HPV types cause no symptoms and go away on their own. But some types can cause cervical cancer in women and other less common cancers - like cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils). Other types of HPV can cause warts in the genital areas of men and women, called genital warts. Genital warts are not life-threatening. But they can cause emotional stress and their treatment can be very uncomfortable. Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from this disease in the U.S. About 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. have visible genital warts at any point in time.
Which girls/women should receive HPV vaccination?
HPV vaccination is recommended with either vaccine for 11 and 12 year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series; HPV vaccine can also be given to girls beginning at age 9 years.
Will sexually active females benefit from the vaccine?
Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. Females who are sexually active may also benefit from vaccination, but they may get less benefit. This is because they may have already been exposed to one or more of the HPV types targeted by the vaccines. However, few sexually active young women are infected with all HPV types prevented by the vaccines, so most young women could still get protection by getting vaccinated.
Other members of the research team include UTMB’s Christine McGrath, Jacqueline Hirth and Abbey Berenson.
This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Journal - Vaccine
Funder - National Institutes of Health