Cervical Cancer Vaccines Spurned by 44% of U.S. Parents

Almost half of U.S. parents say they won’t vaccinate their daughters with Merck & Co.’s Gardasil or GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Cervarix, which prevent the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

Researchers analyzed data from a national survey from 2008 to 2010 on immunizations for teenagers. The proportion of parents saying they wouldn’t vaccinate their teens against the human papilloma virus rose to 44 percent in 2010 from 40 percent two years earlier, according to the report released today in the journal Pediatrics.

The number of girls who received either injection rose to about one-third in 2010 from 16 percent in 2008, the analysis found. About 1 in 6 parents said they weren’t convinced it was safe, and vaccination rates for HPV were substantially lower than injections to protect against tetanus, whooping cough and meningococcal disease.

“That’s the opposite direction that rate should be going,” Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minnesota, and a senior researcher of the paper, said in a statement. “HPV causes essentially 100 percent of cervical cancer and 50 percent of all Americans get infected at least once.”

Most people infected with HPV can fight the infection with no lasting harm. In some, however, it lingers and turns cancerous. The vaccine is more effective in younger adolescents, Jacobsen said. It doesn’t offer any protection once sexually active people contract the virus.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. About 20 million Americans have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 12,000 women get cervical cancer each year in the U.S. and 4,000 die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Gardasil sparked debate in 2007 as 24 states introduced legislation to mandate HPV shots for school girls, even with a lack of long-term safety studies. Since then, several studies have concluded the immunization is safe, though it’s hard to detect rare side effects after a product is on the market.