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HPV Vaccination Rates Fall Behind

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A controversial vaccine, that prevents most cervical cancers, is not being utilized by about half of female teens, and less than a third have gotten all three recommended doses. Is misinformation the cause ?

By comparison, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said about two-thirds of teens had gotten the recommended vaccine for one type of bacterial meningitis and a shot for meningitis and tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

Most cervical cancers are caused by the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV). Widespread HPV immunization, however, could reduce the impact of cervical cancer nationwide. The cervical cancer vaccine is recommended for girls ages 11 to 12, although it may be given to girls as young as age 9. The vaccine only works if a girl is vaccinated before she’s first exposed to the virus. Once a girl or woman has been infected with HPV, the vaccine may not be as effective.

Some parents may believe that since their girl is not sexually active, they don’t need the vaccine. Experts say another reason young girls are not be getting the vaccine is that parents may not want to talk about sex and sexual diseases with their child. ”If we don’t do a much better job, we’re leaving another generation vulnerable to cervical cancer later in life,” said the CDC’s Dr. Melinda Wharton.

Two cervical cancer vaccines have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. — Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if given before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus. In addition, both can prevent most vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and Gardasil can prevent genital warts in women and men.

Both vaccines are given as a series of three injections over a six-month period. The second dose is given one to two months after the first dose, and the third dose is given six months after the first dose. The most common side effects of both HPV vaccines include soreness at the injection site (the upper arm), headaches, low-grade fever or flu-like symptoms. Sometimes dizziness or fainting occurs after the injection, especially in adolescents. Remaining seated for 15 minutes after the injection can reduce the risk of fainting. In addition, Cervarix may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

The vaccine has been controversial. Some states have tried to mandate its use, causing a backlash from parents. There are groups that are wary of drug industry motives, while other groups have said they oppose the promotion of the vaccine because they say it encourages sexual activity by young girls.

About 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 die from it, according to CDC statistics.

The vaccine was made available in 2006. The new study was based on a 2010 telephone survey of the parents of more than 19,000 adolescents ages 13 to 17, who allowed researchers to check their kids’ vaccination records.

Rhode Island and Washington had the highest HPV vaccination rates, both around 70 percent for at least one shot. Idaho had the lowest rates, at about 29 percent. The study was published online in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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