ATLANTA — While rates of human papillomavirus infection among girls ages 14 years to 19 years have dropped by half since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started recommending routine vaccination against it seven years ago, rates of vaccination have not increased, the agency said.
According to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, HPV vaccination coverage for girls did not increase over last year. The survey included vaccination records of about 19,000 teenagers.
"We're dropping the ball," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a conference call with reporters. "We're missing opportunities to give HPV vaccines, and that needs to change to protect girls from cervical cancer."
Frieden said the agency was accustomed to seeing coverage increases of 10% per year when a new vaccine hits the market and expressed disappointment last year when the increase in HPV vaccination rates was 4%. "This year, it's zero percentage points," Frieden said. "The HPV vaccine coverage hasn't kept pace with other vaccines recommended for preteens and teens. One dose does not provide all of the protection that the HPV vaccine series has to offer, so we want all girls to get their second and third doses."
In 2011, 34.8% of teenage girls finished their three-dose series, but the data from 2012 indicate a 33.4% rate. Frieden said that if the vaccine were given every time a young person visited the doctor to get another one, the completion of the series would be at 93%, and even an 80% completion rate would prevent an estimated 53,000 cases of cervical cancer later in life for girls ages 12 years and younger today.
According to research, the single most influential factor in parents' decisions whether to vaccinate are provider's recommendations, but some parents have expressed concern that the vaccine may be seen as license or permission to have sex, even though multiple studies have indicated that preteens and teens who receive it don't have sex any earlier than those who don't.
"HPV vaccine does not open the door to sex; HPV vaccine closes the door to cancer," Frieden said.
In some cases, however, pharmacists have been able to step in to fill the vaccination void. Last month, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that allows pharmacists to administer a variety of vaccinations — including for HPV — under collaborative practice agreements with physicians.