- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Most parents are taking their children to get vaccinated for sexually transmitted HPV, yet fewer than half of U.S. teens received the follow-up shots they need to be fully protected, the government said Thursday in a study that also finds rural areas are falling behind.

Sixty percent of children aged 13 to 17 received at least one dose of the vaccine in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s an increase of 4 percentage points over the 2015 uptake rate of the vaccine, which helps prevent cancers tied to the human papilloma virus.

The CDC recommends that 11 to 12 year olds get two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Those starting after age 15 should get three shots.

Despite a steady increase in uptake since the vaccine debuted a decade ago, the CDC found that 43 percent of teens didn’t get the full complement of shots.

“The first challenge was just to get people started on the series. I think we’re making great progress. Now we need to address our efforts on making sure adolescents complete the series,” said Shannon Stokley, an associate director for science in the CDC’s Immunization Services Division.

Dr. Stokley said some parents may not be aware of the additional doses, or simply forget to schedule follow-up appointments, due to the lag time between doses.

“We always recommend parents complete the entire series, so they get the most benefit,” she said.

HPV is a very common infection, with 14 million new cases recorded among U.S. adolescents and adults each year, according to the CDC. The virus is linked to more than 30,000 diagnoses of cancer each year, notably cervical cancer in women and throat-and-neck cancers in men.

The HPV vaccine was first recommended for girls in 2006 and for boys in 2011. Vaccination rates have steadily increased since then, and three places — Virginia, D.C. and Rhode Island — even require students to be vaccinated for HPV before specific grade levels.

Last year’s uptick was driven by the narrowing gap between males and females, with a 6 percent increase in the share of boys getting vaccinated compared to 2015, while the rate among females increased only slightly.

However, the CDC says teens in rural and nonmetropolitan areas registered a vaccination rate in 2016 that’s 15 percentage points lower than the overall average.

Health disparities in less populated areas often stem from the lack of doctors and health providers in a given area, yet researchers didn’t find a similar disparity in the uptake of the “Tdap” vaccine that protects children against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

“Now we need to understand and look into, ‘If they’re getting Tdap, why aren’t they getting HPV?’” Dr. Stokley said.

Historically, some parents have remained doubtful about the worthiness of the HPV shot and the message it sends to middle school-aged children about sex.

Some lawmakers in Rhode Island are trying to broaden parental exemptions from a state mandate that since fall 2015 has required students to be vaccinated for HPV ahead of seventh grade, in part because there is no reason to think a sexually transmitted disease would be spread in the classroom.

The “anti-vaxxers” movement has also cast doubt on an array of vaccinations, claiming they have harmful side effects, despite evidence the shots are safe and effective.

However, the CDC says the most common impediment to vaccination appears to be a lack of communication in the doctor’s office.

“What we frequently hear is that the provider didn’t recommend the vaccine,” Ms. Stokley said.

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