Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that infects both women and men. It causes unsightly genital warts as well as cervical cancer in women, and head and neck cancers in both sexes. When it was first introduced, the HPV vaccination raised hopes of eliminating cervical cancer, which kills around 10,000 women a year. Unfortunately, inconsistent use has prevented this vaccine from fulfilling its promise.
Although HPV vaccine can be given to children as young as 9, most girls (or boys) receive the first of three shots at 11 years of age, with the goal of competing the series prior to them becoming sexually active. Achieving full vaccination has proven to be frustrating both nationwide and in Louisiana.
While the target goal of Healthy People 2020 remains 80% vaccination among both girls and boys, the reality is not as cheerful. In girls 13-17, only 60% of Louisiana girls take at least one dose and only 42% complete the suggested 3 doses. Among boys, the results are even more dismal, with only 27% getting at least one shot and a meager 13% completing all three. National statistics are actually a bit worse, with only 57% of girls 13-17 getting one shot and only 38% completing the 3-shot series. Nationally, somewhat more boys get the first shot (35% vs 27%), while about the same low number (around 14%) actually compete all three.
In any case, the low HPV vaccination rates are a far cry from the hoped for goals. In contrast, for TDaP (Tetanos-Diphteria and Pertussis) and Meningitis A, the Louisiana rates are a respectable 88% and 93% respectively among young people. The explanation for the difference in compliance is related to the mandatory nature of these two vaccines for enrollment in 6th grade for 11-year-olds and the “recommended but not required” status for HPV vaccination.
Clearly, there remains a substantial disconnect between what we can do with HPV vaccination and what actually is being accomplished. A vaccine which prevents genital warts and cervical (and throat) cancers form HPV should be a no-brainer among providers and the general public. Yet there remains a confused opposition, born of ignorance or misinformation, among the general public against what should be a mandatory vaccination for pre-adolescent children. Facts, not fear, should be the guiding principle in health-related matters.