Shots for Cancer-Causing Sex Virus Stall With U.S. Girls

The number of teenage girls in the U.S. vaccinated against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer, hasn’t increased though the shot can dramatically reduce the risk of the virus.

Vaccinations among 13- to 17-year-old girls remained unchanged last year from 2011, according to the 2012 National Immunization Survey-Teen report by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifty-four percent of the teenagers received one dose of HPV vaccine and 33 percent received all three doses that are the prescribed amount of the treatment, the agency reported. The CDC called for increased education on HPV and cervical cancer.

“Progress increasing HPV vaccination has stalled, risking the health of the next generation,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said today in a statement. “Doctors need to step up their efforts by talking to parents about the importance of HPV vaccine.”

Since Merck & Co.’s HPV vaccine Gardasil was first introduced in 2006, certain strains of HPV have plunged 56 percent, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The shot is 82 percent effective against the virus if at least one of three doses is received. Two HPV vaccines are currently available in the U.S and vaccine coverage jumped 25 percent from 2007 to 2011.

If the HPV vaccine had been administered during regular doctor visits, coverage with one or more doses could have increased to 93 percent, according to the CDC.

Little Understood

Despite the availability of safe and effective HPV vaccines, parents surveyed said they didn’t intend to vaccinate their daughters in the next year, the CDC reported. Parents listed the main reasons as “vaccine not needed”, or “not recommended” as well as safety concerns. Parents also cited lack of information about the vaccine and disease as reasons, according the report.

Doctors say that parents often think the vaccine gives children permission to have sex, especially since it targets girls ages 11 and 12. The CDC said doctors should educate parents that HPV, like most vaccines, needs to be administered far before susceptibility to prevent cancer.

“HPV does not open the door to sex, it closes the door to cancer,” Frieden said on a conference call. “We cannot let this opportunity to go to waste.” HPV vaccinations should go on the “back-to-school checklist” for all families, he said.

HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, with about 12,000 women in the U.S. getting the disease, and almost 4,000 dying each year, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends improving practice patterns so that doctors and their staff use “every opportunity” to provide HPV vaccines. Parents also need to be better informed about reducing the risk of HPV-caused cancers, the CDC said.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Cervarix was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009.