A growing number of parents in the U.S. are choosing not to vaccinate their adolescent children for human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new study published in the June 2023 edition of the journal Pediatrics.1 The study identified HPV vaccine uptake trends in an effort to develop strategies to combat increasing vaccine hesitancy.
The researchers found that the proportion of parents citing “safety or side effects” as a reason for opting out of the three-dose series increased significantly by 15.6 percent annually from 2010 to 2018. Also topping the list of cited reasons for opting out of the vaccine were “Not necessary,” “safety concerns,” “lack of recommendation,” “lack of knowledge,” and “not sexually active.”2
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the HPV vaccine targets the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and some cancers of the vulva, anus, oropharynx, as well as HPV types associated with most genital warts.3
“This would have been acceptable around 2006 when the vaccine was new, but now, it is shocking that people still think the vaccine may not be safe,” said study co-author and assistant scientist at Henry Ford Health in Detroit, Michigan Eric Adjei Boakye, PhD. The study’s lead researcher, Kalyani Sonawane, PhD of UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, Texas, said:
Our suspicion is that the rising safety concerns are probably being driven by [the] use of social media and people trying to find vaccine information online.
HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses and is considered to be the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. In over 90 percent of cases, HPV is harmless and clears up on its own.4
Recent Study Suggests Single HPV Dose Provides Adequate Protection
CDC officials recommend HPV vaccination for boys and girls aged 11-12, but say that HPV vaccine can be given to children as young as nine years old. As of 2020, about 75 percent of U.S. teens had gotten at least one dose of HPV vaccine in the two or three-dose HPV series, and almost 60 percent had completed the series.
However, preliminary results of a recent study suggested that just one HPV shot is over 97 percent effective in preventing infection, leading over 20 countries to revise their recommendations in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO). The study, which is not yet published, included a randomized double-blind controlled trial—the “gold standard” in research and medicine—where participants in the control group received meningococcal vaccine.5 6
In 2022, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization decided one dose of the three-dose series would suffice for adequate HPV protection, acknowledging that people are less likely to get all doses of a three dose HPV vaccine series.
Late-Stage Cervical Cancer on the Rise After Widespread HPV Vaccination
Following the adoption of the routine pap smear for women in the 1940s, cervical cancer and subsequent mortality rates fell by 75 percent.7
Incidence rates plateaued in 2012, six years after the HPV vaccine was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 and recommended by CDC officials for all 11-12 year old children. Today, despite widespread vaccination, late-stage cervical cancer is on the rise, and incidence rates have not declined within any U.S. racial, ethnic, or age group over the last 18 years, according to one study.8
The WHO seeks to vaccinate 90 percent of girls globally against HPV before they turn 15 years old. Coverage is currently at 13 percent.9
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1 Boakye EA, Nair M, Abouelella DK et al. Trends in Reasons for Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Hesitancy: 2010-2020. Pediatrics 2023; 151(6).
2 Press Release. Study: Increasing Number of Parents Who Decline HPV Vaccination for Teens Cite Safety Concerns. American Academy of Pediatrics May 23, 2023.
3 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women. Apr. 18, 2022.
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health. Human papillomavirus. Dec. 29, 2022.
5 Mann D. Parents’ mistrust of HPV vaccine may be growing. Medical Xpress May 23, 2023.
6 Christensen J. HPV vaccine: Some studies say one and done might be better. CNN May 22, 2023.
7 Safaeian M, Soloman D. Cervical Cancer Prevention – Cervical Screening: Science in Evolution. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am 2007; 34(4).
8 Salamon M. Late-stage cervical cancer on the rise: What to know. Harvard Health Publishing Feb. 7, 2023.
9 Press Release. One-dose Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine offers solid protection against cervical cancer World Health Organization Apr. 11, 2022.