Today’s college students went through their teen years watching advertisements for the newly recommended Human Papillomavirus vaccine, but vaccination rates still aren’t as high as doctors would like.
Despite the medical community’s increased push for the vaccines, the percentage of parents who refused to let their children ages 13 to 17 get them rose 4 percentage points from 2008-10, according to a study published in Pediatrics last month.
University of Minnesota pediatrics professor Mark Schleiss said the increase is a “big concern” in the medical community.
Just under 35 percent of 13- to 17-year-old girls received all three necessary HPV vaccinations, according to 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Certain strains of HPV can lead to genital warts and different types of cancer in both men and women. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection among University of Minnesota students, according to the 2010 Boynton Health Service College Student Health Survey.
Most sexually active adults will come in contact with at least one strain of HPV in their lifetime, and the vaccine protects against cancer-causing strains, said Lisa Randall, a Minnesota Department of Health adolescent and adult immunization outreach coordinator.
The assumption that the vaccine will increase sexual activity is one reason some parents don’t allow their children to get it, Shleiss said.
But a study published in Pediatrics in October 2012 showed no significant difference in sexual activity between vaccinated and unvaccinated girls.
Shleiss said parents should consider that young children are also typically vaccinated against Hepatitis B, which he said was the most common STI before a vaccine was available.
“It’s about cancer,” Randall said. “It’s not about sex.”
Some parents believe there’s a connection between vaccines and autism, she said, but those concerns lack scientific basis.
“I think that it all starts with education,” Schleiss said. “I think one of the most important things that can be done is to educate people about the real risk-benefit ratios of vaccines.”
Randall said fainting is one of the only common side effects of the vaccine, and that’s common for most vaccines.
Physicians are ordering fewer HPV vaccines, she said, so the MDH sent out reminders and educational materials.
The department is also collecting adolescent HPV vaccine data from different clinics and sending each clinic a report of its own vaccine rates, Randall said.
“We’re serious about HPV,” Randall said. “It is every bit as important as the childhood vaccines and other adolescent vaccines.”
In 2011, the CDC started recommending the vaccine for males, so data for them won’t be available until later this year, Randall said.
HPV vaccines are recommended for women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 for the vaccines to be the most cost effective, Randall said.
“If you’re a college student and had some doses, it’s not too late,” Randall said.
Carleton College freshman Mollie Wetherall was skeptical of the vaccine as a teenager because of the pain the shot can cause and because it was recently developed.
“I haven’t considered it recently since I’m too old to be at my prime for the shot,” Wetherall said.
She said she’s still considering the vaccine and will talk with her doctor about it more in the future.
“My skepticism has dissipated over the years,” Wetherall said. “It’s also just a matter of getting motivated to go and do it.”
The effectiveness of the vaccine drops from 97 percent to 44 percent if the patient is already sexually active, said Boynton Women’s Clinic associate director Dr. Lisa Mattson .
“But that’s still better than nothing,” Mattson said.
Boynton has added a question to its 2013 student survey asking if students have received the HPV vaccine, Boynton spokesperson Dave Golden said.
“We’re hoping that most of our students have been vaccinated prior to coming to campus,” Golden said. “But it’s still a relatively new vaccine.”
Boynton’s Student Health Benefit Plan covers the cost of the vaccines for male and female students, Golden said.
Schleiss said the public has historically been resistant to new vaccines, so he’s optimistic the HPV vaccine will eventually become more popular.
“It’s a good, safe, effective vaccine,” Randall said. “People don’t need to be worried about it.”