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Young teens are not getting the HPV vaccine

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Only about 16 percent of U.S. adolescents have been fully vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) by the time they turn 13, despite national recommendations that call for vaccination at 11 to 12 years of age.

“Providers need to be aware that, while we have seen gains in HPV vaccination coverage, we are still falling behind at the younger ages,” says Dr. Robert A. Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and lead author of the study. “In general, we need to do a better job of recommending the HPV vaccine at routine adolescent and well-child visits, with a particular focus on patients 11 to 12 years of age.”

Nearly 80 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with some type of HPV, a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Every year, HPV causes approximately 34,000 cancers, including cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women; penile cancer in men; and mouth, throat, and anal cancer in women and men. The most recent version of the vaccine protects against seven of the most common types of HPV that cause cancer.

For the study, researchers analyzed 2016 data from a nationwide survey of parents conducted annually by the CDC that includes vaccination information verified by providers. Overall, an estimated 43 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds were fully vaccinated against HPV, but only about 16 percent of adolescents had received all recommended HPV vaccine doses by their 13th birthday.

Timely HPV vaccination has several advantages. The immune response to the vaccine is stronger at a younger age, providing better protection against HPV infections and the cancers they can cause later in life. If an adolescent is vaccinated before age 15, only two doses of the HPV vaccine are required instead of the three doses that are recommended for vaccination after this age. In addition, the HPV vaccine is one of three vaccines recommended for 11- to-12-year-olds that can be given at the same time. (The tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis [Tdap] vaccine and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine are the other recommended immunizations at these ages.)

The new analysis also found that adolescents with more than one health care provider were not as likely to be up to date on their HPV vaccination by age 13 or 15. These results highlight the need for good record keeping, effective use of state immunization information systems, and increased provider awareness to make sure these patients are not overlooked when considering vaccination opportunities, Bednarczyk says.

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