HPV vaccine rates not climbing as expected, study shows

Inoculation remains voluntary in Iowa; local doctor speaks to groups about vaccine's benefits

A nurse administers a dose of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine to a patient Thursday, February 15, 2007 at Student Healt
A nurse administers a dose of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine to a patient Thursday, February 15, 2007 at Student Health on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. 17 states are trying to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for girls between the ages of 9 and 12. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Despite a national push, fewer teens than expected are getting vaccinations that prevent a type of cancer transmitted through sexual activity.

Mayo Clinic researchers in Minnesota found only a third of eligible teen girls got shots to prevent the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Five years ago, the percent of parents who said they would definitely not get the vaccine for their daughters was 40 percent. The rate rose to 42 percent in 2009 and 44 percent in 2010.

The research found parents thought the vaccine was not necessary or that their children were not sexually active. Fewer than five percent of parents had safety concerns about the vaccine in 2008. That figure is now up to 16 percent. The findings were reported in the most recent issue of the medical journal “Pediatrics.”

Dr. Sharon Bertroche, a family practice physician in Marion, talks to groups frequently about the benefits of HPV vaccine for both girls and boys ages 11 to 18. Bertroche, who practices at MercyCare Marion, tries to visit every eighth grade class in Cedar Rapids to answer questions from teens and show the statistics about preventing cervical and other cancers connected with the HPV virus.

Bertroche said she’s successful in getting a large percent of her patients to follow the recommendations about HPV inoculations. But she said some parents hear the term “sexual activity” connected with the vaccine and simply reject any recommendations.

“A lot of parents will think that their daughters will never be in a situation where they’ll contract this virus. But studies show 90 percent of sexually active young women will be in contact with this virus at some point in time,” Bertroche said.

Other health care providers also have noticed the backlash reflected in the Mayo study. Heather Meador, a public health nurse with Linn County Public Health, said some parents who use the county’s Vaccine for Children program don’t want the HPV vaccine. Some offer a number of reasons, but often it comes down to sending the wrong message to kids.

“They think my child is not sexually active, therefore my child does not need this," Meador said. "However, this vaccine is not for someone sexually active. It should be given to kids prior to sexual activity starting.”

Meador said the vaccine takes time to build an immunity in the body and that’s the reason most doctors recommend an early start to the series of three shots.

Another issue health professionals face is what people read on the Internet.

"It starts up a lot of false conversations—misinterpretations," Meador said. "The Internet is great, but there’s a lot of bad information on the web.”Some states have contemplated making HPV vaccinations mandatory. But in Iowa, it is still a voluntary inoculation.

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