Rates of the most common sexually transmitted infection, human papilloma virus, dropped by more than half in teenage girls after the introduction of a vaccine, although fewer than a third of girls received a full dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.
A researcher for Georgia Regents University who helped develop a vaccine said it was good news, but vaccination rates are even worse in Georgia, and the university and CDC are working on a plan to change that.
A vaccine to protect against four strains of HPV, two of which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer and two that cause 90 percent of genital warts, was approved in 2006 and recommended for girls ages 11 to 12 and up to age 26.
From 2007 to 2010, the rate of infection from vaccine-related strains of HPV in girls ages 14-19 dropped from 11.5 percent to 5.1 percent, a decline of 56 percent, according to a study conducted by CDC researchers and published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The drop came even though only 32 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds received all three doses needed for full vaccination.
“These are striking results, and I think they should be a wake-up call that we need to increase vaccination rates because we can protect the next generation of adolescents and girls against cancer caused by HPV,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said. “The bottom line is this: It is possible to protect a generation from cancer, and we’ve got to do it.”
Dr. Daron Ferris, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at GRU and the director of HPV-related cancers at GRU Cancer Center. The decline is good news, he said, even if the vaccination rate is still disappointing.
One of the early objections raised against the vaccine was that it might encourage sexual behavior among young girls.
The study found that the rates of girls having sex were unchanged after vaccination began compared with the years just before, said its lead author, Dr. Lauri Markowitz, a medical epidemiologist at CDC.
A study done in Augusta found that 96 percent of parents did not believe vaccination would encourage sex, Ferris said.
“This kind of underscores what we knew would happen, that receiving this vaccine in no way affects sexual behavior later in life,” he said.
The decline also points out the need to raise vaccination levels to rates other countries are seeing; in the United Kingdom and Australia, it is more than 90 percent, Ferris said.
“These other countries are putting us to shame,” he said. “It’s sad that here we have a cancer-prevention vaccine that is largely ignored. And there’s no reason for that.”
About 79 million people are infected with HPV in the U.S., and every year an additional 14 million get infected, Frieden said. Raising the U.S. rate to 80 percent would have prevented 50,000 girls from getting cervical cancer later in life, he said.
In Georgia, only about 25 percent of girls have been vaccinated, which puts the state in the bottom five, Ferris said. GRU met with CDC last week to talk about working together to help raise the vaccination rate in Georgia, he said.
Ferris said he thinks education about the vaccine, particularly among health care providers, is key to increasing the vaccination rate.