Jul 29, 2013

    US lags in vaccinating girls against cancer-causing virus

    ONLY slightly more than half of girls aged 13 to 17 in the United States had been vaccinated last year against a virus that can cause cervical and other cancers. A top US health official said that more must be done to bring the rate up to the long-term goal of 80 per cent.

    The vaccination rate to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) was 53.8 per cent last year for teenage girls, just marginally higher than the 53 per cent rate a year earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

    The rate reflected girls who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Full vaccination requires a three-dose series.

    HPV is responsible for an estimated 26,000 cancer cases in the US each year. About 79 million people in the country have the sexually-transmitted virus, and 14 million are newly infected each year.

    The CDC collected data from the National Immunization Survey-Teen, which collects vaccination data for those aged 13 to 17.

    The CDC recommends routine HPV vaccination for boys and girls at age 11-12, before they are sexually active.

    It noted that, among unvaccinated girls, 84 per cent had missed the opportunity to get an HPV shot when they visited a health-care provider for another immunisation. Had they also received an HPV vaccine at that time, the percentage of girls who had received at least one dose could be as high as 93 per cent.

    Each year, the vaccination rate remains near its current 33 per cent for girls who have received all three doses, while an additional 4,400 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to the CDC.

    HPV, which often does not show symptoms for several years, can also cause vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and lead to penile cancer in men. It may also lead to anal and throat cancers among men and women, as well as genital warts.

    The vaccines are sold by Merck under the name Gardasil, and by GlaxoSmithKline under the name Cervarix.

    The vaccination rate for adolescent girls who received the recommended three-dose series decreased slightly last year to 33.4 per cent, from 34.8 per cent the year before.

    Health officials hope to achieve an 80 per cent vaccination rate within seven years, according to goals laid out in 2020's Healthy People, a set of 10-year objectives aimed at improving health in the US.

    The officials said many parents do not believe their daughters need to be vaccinated because they are not sexually active, or are afraid that receiving the vaccine will open the door to sex.

    But the American Academy of Pediatrics said that, like other vaccines, the HPV vaccine needs to be administered well before exposure to potential diseases.