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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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HPV Vaccine Lowering Infection Rates Among Girls

Extent of protection from sexually transmitted virus higher than expected, suggesting 'herd immunity' is at work, experts say


Whatever the reason, the new statistics are "great news," according to Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La. "I think every young woman should have the opportunity to have this vaccine. That's what I've been telling people for however long the vaccine has been available."

HPV is highly infectious. In fact, about 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are thought to be currently infected with HPV, and each year about 14 million people become newly infected.

The study was based on data from the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It compared HPV infections in teenage girls from 2003 to 2006 (before the start of the United States' HPV vaccination program) against infections that occurred from 2007 to 2010, after girls began receiving the vaccine.

The CDC team showed that infections by the HPV types covered by the vaccine fell dramatically -- from 11.5 percent in the pre-vaccine era to 5.1 percent post-vaccine.

There has been some public resistance to the HPV vaccine, of which there are now two versions, Gardasil (approved in 2006) and Cervarix (approved in 2009). The CDC currently recommends routine immunization at ages 11 to 12 for both boys and girls -- before most young people become sexually active.

A series of three shots is recommended over six months for both girls and boys. HPV vaccination is also recommended for older teens and young adults who were not vaccinated when younger.

"Unfortunately, only one-third of [U.S.] girls aged 13 to 17 have received the full three-dose series of the HPV vaccine," Frieden pointed out. In contrast, "countries such as Rwanda have vaccinated more than 80 percent of their teen girls. [The U.S. rate] is simply unacceptable. Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies; 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we had reached our goal of 80 percent vaccination rates. For every year we delay in doing so, another 4,400 girls will develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes."

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