Despite the tireless consciousness-raising efforts of Michael Douglas and Lena Dunham's fictional Twitter account that existed in a single episode of Girls, a new survey from the Center for Disease Control shows that the vaccination rate for teenage girls against HPV has remained dangerously low.
Human papillomavirus is the most common STI and a leading cause of cervical cancer in women (it can also cause throat cancer in both men and women). It's a serious problem, and hardly a new one: experts have been recommending that all girls get vaccinated at age 11 or 12 since 2007. Five years later, however, the CDC survey found that only 33.4 percent of teenage girls had finished the necessary three doses of the vaccine — an actual decrease from the 2011 rate, which was 34.8 percent. This figure lags enormously behind other the inoculation rate of other nations, which tend to be around at least 80 percent.
This stagnant vaccination rate is really unusual. According to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, head of the CDC, coverage rates for new vaccines normally increase by 10 percentage points a year. It was previously believed that teens weren't going to the doctor as frequently (because they were probably too busy Snapchatting and tweeting about the PSAT), thus the low figures. That's not true, though — the survey found that teenagers are getting inoculated against other diseases much more frequently.
The problem, then, is that doctors aren't mentioning the HPV vaccine to their teen parents or their parents. According to Dr. Frieden, were teenagers to get the HPV vaccine along with any other, the coverage rate for at least one dose would nearly double, which is great news. If the U.S. were to reach an 80 percent vaccination rate, that would spare an estimated 50,000 girls from contracting cervical cancer. In short, it's really, really crucial that we step up.
In the words of Dr. Thomas K. McInery, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics: "Parents trust your opinion more than anyone else’s when it comes to immunization. We have a powerful tool to prevent cancer. Let’s use it." Yes, let's.
"HPV Vaccine Not Reaching Enough Girls, Says C.D.C" [NYTimes]
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