By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, the types of HPV — human papillomavirus — that commonly cause cervical cancer in women has dropped by about half in girls aged 14 to 19. That’s according to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
“It’s really great to see the documentation in a … trial that this vaccine really does work just as well as it looked like it was gonna work,” said Dr. Meg Fisher, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It has been amazing that in this short of a time we’ve already seen a decrease in the incidence of these virus types.”
Dr. Fisher hopes the study will encourage more parents to get their children vaccinated. That’s because the CDC calls HPV the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It causes 19,000 cancers in women each year and 8,000 cancers in men.
“The good news is that now we don’t just immunize girls, but we have the opportunity to immunize and protect boys as well. And by protecting the boys, we’re also protecting the girls. So this is now a universal recommendation to immunize all children starting at the ages of 11, 12 and it’s a three-dose series,” Fisher said.
But vaccination rates are low. In New Jersey, just 38 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 have had all three doses. That’s slightly higher than the national vaccination rate of 34 percent but far below other countries, including Rwanda.
The New Jersey Department of Health insists it works to promote required and recommended vaccination for adolescents through outreach and education and it speaks regularly at conferences regarding the importance of adolescent immunization.
So why the low vaccination rate in New Jersey? Fisher says one reason could be that some parents believe there’s a stigma attached to the vaccine and they think it’s only for pre-teens who are sexually active. But Fisher says that’s not true.
“If you’re vaccinated before you’re exposed to the virus, we can prevent you from getting infected and from getting cancer. Unfortunately the vaccine doesn’t work at all after you’re infected,” Fisher said.
The goal is to reach an 87 percent vaccination rate. Fisher says the New Jersey chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics is working with the New Jersey Department of Health to raise awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated.