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Proven effectiveness of HPV vaccine should spur wider acceptance by parents

The results are in and evidence is strong that the vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer is working for large numbers of teenage girls.

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinating against human papillomavirus (HPV) has cut infections from the virus by nearly two-thirds in teenage girls. The report should help persuade more parents to have their sons and daughters vaccinated.

Because HPV is sexually transmitted, a misconception exists that administering the vaccine is essentially the same as encouraging young people to have sex. It is not, and never was. This false notion may be the reason only a small percentage of young people in this country have been immunized – about 40 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17. Only Virginia, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia require the vaccine.

Some countries make the vaccine mandatory or offer it at school, covering the cost through a national health care system. Rwanda has achieved a 93 percent immunization rate in girls. Australia, where the vaccine is offered free to schoolgirls, has achieved a 92 percent reduction in genital warts, caused by HPV, in women under 21, according to a study reported by the New York Times. Yet in the United States the vaccine is largely optional.

The reported focus is now on recommending the vaccine for children ages 11 and 12, for reasons involving their robust immune response. It is also when most states require two other vaccines, one for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and the other for meningococcal disease.

There is cause for great concern with any or all of the above. Each year about 14 million Americans become infected with HPV. Many of them will “clear the virus,” but some strains do not clear and can cause genital warts, in addition to cervical, anal, penile and mouth and throat cancers. The American Cancer Society has determined that 4,120 women will die of cervical cancer this year.

The proof is in that the vaccination is working for girls. The recommendation that boys get vaccinated gained widespread support only in 2011. The effect on them will be included in later studies.

Doctors play a key role in influencing parents to allow the vaccine. Some are reluctant to suggest the vaccine, fearing possible negative response to the uncomfortable subject of teen sexual activity.

Prevention must be the focus. Parents should be grateful for a vaccination that keeps their children from suffering some deadly forms of cancer.