July 25, 2014 9:00 am

After a plateau, cervical cancer vaccination rates for US girls rising

A woman receives an HPV vaccination in this file photo.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

NEW YORK – More teen girls are getting a controversial cervical cancer vaccine but the increase isn’t much of a bump, the government reported Thursday.

Last year’s rise follows a couple of years when the girls’ HPV vaccination rate was flat and health officials worried that it wouldn’t budge. For girls ages 13 to 17, the rate is now up to about 38 per cent of girls, from 33 per cent.

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“It was better than nothing. But we really need to do better moving forward,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine protects against human papillomavirus, or HPV. The sexually transmitted bug can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and other illnesses.

READ MORE: HPV vaccine could be given in 2 doses, not 2, UBC research suggests

A three-dose series of HPV shots was introduced in 2006. The government recommends the vaccine for girls ages 11 and 12 because it works best if given before a teen starts to have sex.

Some have worried that taking a child for the vaccination implied green-lighting sexual activity. But health officials have tried to push doctors and parents to see it as just another disease-prevention measure for pre-adolescents, like the recommended shots against meningitis and whooping cough. It takes time for new vaccines to become widely used, but the HPV vaccine has lagged behind other shots.

There’s some good news: Campaigns in Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and South Carolina paid off with increases last year of at least 12 percentage points for girls who got at least one dose, the CDC reported.

READ MORE: New cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend testing every 3 years

Nationally, vaccination rate increases were larger for boys. About 35 per cent got at least one dose last year, up from 21 per cent in 2012. The three-dose number doubled to 14 per cent, from 7 per cent.

The government only began recommending the vaccine for boys in 2011, and the increases mirror those seen in girls five years earlier. It’s not clear if the trend will flatten out after the early rush – like it did for girls.

READ MORE: Doctors calling for increase in male HPV vaccinations

The CDC numbers come from a random phone survey of parents of about 18,000 adolescents, followed by a check of medical records. But many declined to be in the survey and it’s possible that those who agreed to participate were more likely to embrace HPV vaccinations. That could make the actual HPV rates lower than the CDC report suggests, Schuchat said.

Online:

CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr

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