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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Why Many U.S. Preteens Aren't Getting the HPV Shot

Review found cost, fear of kids becoming sexually active deters some parents


"Parents report that a recommendation from their health care provider is the key factor in their decision," Holman said, yet the study found that many didn't get this recommendation from their doctor.

Dr. Greg Yapalater, a pediatrician in New York City, routinely counsels adolescents and their parents about the HPV shot. "People shy away from anything that has to do with sex, and this shot has to do with the sex talk," he noted.

When talking to families, Yapalater discusses puberty and sexually transmitted diseases and how not to get them. "This opens up the chapter in terms of condoms and vaccinations," he said. "I spend time discussing this with the entire family as ultimately the parents are the ones who will say yes or no to the vaccine."

Many parents fear that vaccinating against HPV will encourage their children to be promiscuous, but this is not the case, he said. "Educating families can help debunk any of these myths or concerns associated with the vaccine. This is an amazing vaccine because it prevents cancer."

Dr. Mark Wakabayashi, co-director of the gynecological cancers program and chief of gynecologic oncology at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., treats people who have some of the cancers this shot may help prevent. So he finds less resistance among his patients.

Wakabayashi said that because the HPV vaccine targets a sexually transmitted infection, stigma often plays a role in people's decision for or against it. ""If this was like the chickenpox vaccine, there would be a higher rate of acceptance," he said.

More education is needed to increase acceptance of this vaccine, and this starts by educating the doctors who are tasked with providing it, he said.

Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that cost is the primary barrier among her patients when it comes to the HPV shot. Still, parents' fears about their children becoming sexually active can also be an obstacle.

"Some parents want to wait until their child is older, but the goal is to complete the series of vaccinations before the child becomes sexually active," Wu said. "You are protecting the general population, too. That is why we want boys and girls to get the shot."

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