Both E.U. and U.S. Want More Young Girls to Get Vaccinated for HPV

All European young women should get vaccinated to protect themselves against HPV, European Union health officials quite rationally announced today.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) praised the 19 out of 29 countries that had already introduced vaccine programs, but noted that rates were as low as 17 percent in some. The state of the Union is better than it was in 2010, when only Portugal and Britain had vaccination coverage rates above 80 percent for 10 to 14-year-old girls, but the ECDC is still calling for public health authorizes and parents alike to step up their efforts. "European countries may need to examine why HPV vaccination coverage rates ... are not higher and strengthen their vaccination campaigns accordingly." said Marc Sprenger, the ECDC's director.

As of now, the ECDC is focusing on vaccinating girls only, because "the personal benefit of the vaccine for men in terms of cancer prevention is very low" and therefore unlikely to be cost-effective. In contrast, a study published last year found that using Cervarix, a type of shot that only protects against two cancer strains, was so effective against combating the virus that health authorities with good coverage rates could actually start reducing the need for later cervical screening. Cancer-free and cost-effective! Everybody wins!

Maybe U.S. health officials should start focusing more on the HPV vaccine's cost-effectiveness, too, because preaching about the benefits of protecting adolescents from HPV-related cancers hasn't been getting us very far, since our country loves to pretend that teenagers have never heard of sex and won't try it until they're happily (or unhappily) married.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently lamented low HPV vaccination rates among young women — more U.S. teens are getting shots for meningitis and whooping cough, but not so many are lining up to protect their ovaries.

The amount of teenage girls protected by all three HPV shots range from about 57 percent in Rhode Island to less than 16 percent in Arkansas, according to the CDC's report. "Like the previous year, poor and minority teen girls who start the three-dose HPV series have lower rates of finishing it. Coverage was also lower for younger girls, meaning 11- and 12-year-olds are not getting the vaccine as recommended," the center said in a release. That's not good.

The CDC said administering the HPV vaccine along with other teen vaccines — kind of like the best ever 2 for 1 deal, because you get to possibly not have cancer — would help improve HPV vaccine coverage rates, and that it was crucial to address these missed opportunities to protect teenagers from getting sick later on in life.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, with about 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year. Let's hope these transatlantic efforts to protect more young women will be implemented and help significantly lower those numbers — and that officials in areas with particularly low vaccination rates will stop treating the HPV vaccine like it's a teenage girl version of Viagra and realize that it's a necessary preventative measure. Wishful thinking?

EU advises all girls need cervical cancer vaccines [Reuters]
Too Few Girls Get HPV Vaccine Against Cancer: CDC [US News & World Report]

Image via Blaj Gabriel Shutterstock.