Less than half of American teens are vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), and parents' reluctance is a big reason why, a child health expert says.
Guidelines recommend that all children get a two-shot vaccine against HPV at their 11-year-old checkup. HPV can cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, head or neck.
There are many reasons for the low vaccination rate, including the fact that many parents believe their child is too young to be protected against a sexually transmitted disease, according to Dr. Ben Fogel. He's a pediatrician at Penn State Medical Group in Hershey, Penn.
"They are resistant to thinking about their kids having sex, but the vaccine only works if you get it before you need to be protected," he said in a Penn State news release. "You don't rush to put on your seatbelt once you're already in a car accident. It's something you put on ahead of time and hopefully never need."
Fogel said many pediatricians don't help parents understand the importance of HPV vaccination.
"When a parent says they aren't sure about it, the doctors aren't following up with a discussion about the parent's concerns and the benefits of the vaccine," he explained.
While the vaccine can be given as early as age 9 or as late as age 26, it's best when given at age 11, according to Dr. Rollyn Ornstein, who specializes in treating adolescents at Penn State Children's Hospital.
"The vaccine works better if given prior to the onset of sexual activity, before possible exposure to HPV. If given after the age of 15, a series of three vaccines are actually needed as opposed to two," she said in the news release.
The shots are supposed to be given six months apart, Fogel said. But some kids who get the first shot don't get the booster because they don't have another well visit at that time. The shot isn't always offered at yearly checkups after that.
"A lot of people fall through the cracks because of that," he added.
According to Fogel, nearly half of people get HPV at some point in their lives.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on HPV vaccination.
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