A rising percentage of parents say they will not vaccinate their teen daughters against the human papillomavirus even though physicians are increasingly recommending it.
According to a study by Mayo Clinic and others, more than two out of five parents surveyed believe the HPV vaccine is unnecessary and a growing number expressed concern about potential side effects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists HPV as the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country, and it's estimated that nearly all sexually active men and women will get it at some point in their lives -- including those with only one sexual partner. The vaccine prevents cervical cancer and other genital cancers that are linked to the virus.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Pediatrics after researches looked at three vaccines which are routinely recommended for American teens:
Although up-to-date immunizations rates rose for all three vaccines, the proportions of girls who are fully immunized against HPV was substantially lower than the other two vaccines.
Using vaccination data from the 2008-2010 National Immunization Survey of Teens between the ages of 13 and 17, researchers found that 80 percent of teens received the Tdap vaccine and roughly 63 percent were given the MCV4 vaccine. Only about one third of girls were immunized against HPV.
The HPV vaccine requires there doses across six months, and 40 percent of parents surveyed five years ago said they would not vaccinate their daughters. In 2009, that number rose to 41 percent. In 2010, it jumped to 44 percent.
"That's the opposite direction that rate should be going," said senior researcher Robert Jacobson, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic Children's Center.
While the HPV vaccination rate did rise, it was only 16 percent in 2008 -- and more parents are now reporting that they do not intend to vaccinate their daughters for one of the following reasons:
The vaccine was not recommended
While HPV is normally passed on through intercourse, the CDC fact sheet shows it can also be transmitted through oral sex and contact with an infected person's genitals regardless of whether symptoms or signs are present.
"HPV causes essentially 100 percent of cervical cancer and 50 percent of all Americans get infected at least once with HPV," said Jacobson. "It's a silent infection. You cannot tell when you've been exposed or when you have it."
Survey results show the number of parents concerned about the safety of the HPV vaccine more than tripled from 5 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2010. By comparison, the study found less than 1 percent of parents surveyed expressed worries about the safety of Tdap and MCV4 vaccines.
However, Jacobson said many studies in recent years have found that the HPV vaccine is both safe and effective for adolescent patients. In fact, Jacobsen has taken part in the safety review committees for two such studies.
"While most HPV infections clear, a percentage linger and start the process of cancerous changes. The HPV vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine," Jacobson stressed.
According to the parents surveyed, more clinicians are recommending the HPV vaccine; although, they are only advising it about half of the time. Jacobson said the facts show the vaccine is necessary and he stressed that it is most effective in younger adolescents than in older teens.
"The vaccine works better the younger the child is and it doesn't work after the child is grown up and is exposed to the virus," Jacobson explained. "So, our message should be: 'Give this vaccine now to your child while your child is young and responsive to it.'"
At the Mayo Clinic, they routinely start the HPV vaccine series at age 9.