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HPV vaccine uptake among American adolescents ‘on the rise’

Nearly half (49 percent) of all adolescents aged between 13 and 17 were up-to-date with their human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines in 2017, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) found uptake of the vaccine rose five percentage points last year compared with the preceding 12 month period. 

The latest figures from the CDC revealed that two-thirds (66 percent) of adolescents received their first HPV vaccine dose, yet a significant proportion (17 percent) had yet to receive the second dose, which is usually administered between six and twelve months later.

Furthermore, uptake of the HPV vaccine was lower among youth in rural areas. Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, acknowledged the challenge facing physicians in rural areas, observing that it can be difficult to stock all the recommended vaccines, but adding that these clinicians can still play a “critical role” by referring patients to other vaccine providers.

CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, described the HPV vaccine as the “best way” to protect young Americans from developing cancers caused by HPV infection, describing vaccination as “the key to cervical cancer elimination”. 

The HPV vaccine was first introduced in the US in 2006, with the current vaccine providing protection against nine strains of HPV. As of 2017, the only HPV vaccine available in the US is Gardasil 9 from Merck.

What is HPV?

HPV is a virus that is often symptomless, but which can cause genital warts in both men and women. HPV is a very common condition, affecting an estimated one in four people in the United States. 

The infection can increase the risk of developing more serious conditions, such as cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat), and cancer of the penis, anus, vulva or vagina. According to another report released with the latest MMWR, oropharyngeal cancer is the most common form of HPV-associated cancer in the US. 

Each year, around 43,000 HPV-associated cancers are diagnosed in the US, with over 33,000 of these cases estimated to be caused by HPV. 

Who should get the HPV vaccine? 

HPV vaccination is most effective in childhood or adolescence, and CDC guidelines recommend children be immunized with two shots of the vaccine when they are between 11 and 12 years old. Children aged 14 or older may require three shots administered over a six month period. 

However, the vaccine is not reserved for children and adolescents and is recommended for all young women up to the age of 26 and young men up to 21 years of age. 

The CDC also advises young men up to 26 years of age who identify as gay or bisexual and who are sexually active with other men to get the HPV vaccine if they were not immunized in their youth. Transgender young adults up to 26 years of age are also advised to get immunization to protect against HPV. Other at-risk groups include young adults with certain immunocompromising medical conditions, such as HIV. 

How is HPV treated? 

HPV is a treatable condition, although in many cases, symptoms, such as warts, clear up without treatment. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus, so warts may eventually reappear, either in the same place on the body or elsewhere. 

Warts can be treated with salicylic acid, or with other topical antiviral medications, including Zyclara (imiquimod), Condylox (podofilox), and trichloroacetic acid. In some cases, surgical procedures may be required. Options include burning warts with an electrical current, freezing them with liquid nitrogen, laser surgery, and surgical removal.