Although the opposition has veered between passive and ferocious, an immunization against a virus that causes cervical cancer has cut the virus’s prevalence in teen girls by two-thirds, researchers say. That’s good news in the fight against cervical cancer, which kills more than 4,000 women a year in the United States. Cervical cancer appears even more preventable if advocates can increase the number of girls and boys vaccinated against strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) that cause the cancer.
Because the three-dose immunization fights a sexually transmitted viral infection, parents, teachers, and doctors have hesitated to talk about the vaccine and HPV, which can cause genital warts, as well as cervical, anal, penile, and mouth and throat cancers.
Some grownups have argued that talking to boys and girls as young as 10 to 12, the ages to ensure optimal protection against HPV by immunization, encourages too early sexual behaviors; others are simply uncomfortable at all about talking with young people about sex.
The District of Columbia, Virginia, and Rhode Island have acted to require HPV immunization. But the shots, like all immunizations, also have gotten wrapped up in anti-vaccination controversies−many of which are tied to unfounded or rejected theories or discredited information presented as science.
Although immunization rates remain low — 40 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 – advocates were encouraged by the findings reported in the journal Pediatrics. “The vaccine is more effective than we thought,” a researcher told the New York Times, adding that the fight against HPV will be even more effective as the number of youngsters immunized grows.
Indeed, even now among women in their early 20s, an older group in which HPV vaccination rates are lower, the vaccination already also has cut infections with the most dangerous strains of HPV by a third.
The evidence favoring HPV immunization has been sufficiently compelling that 60 National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers earlier this year joined in a national effort to urge more Americans to get vaccinated.