Young Women Not Going All the Way

HPV vaccinations not being completed in record numbers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Since 2006, the human papillomavirus (HPV) has been suggested for girls and young women to cut their risks of developing cervical cancer. Young men are also being urged to complete the 3-shot series.

Girls aren't going the distance.

Girls and teenagers may start, but most are not finishing the series of HPV vaccines - three shots taken over a six-month schedule.

The completion rate has never been very good, and it's only getting worse.

"Talk to your pediatrician about the HPV vaccination."

Since its introduction, the number of insured girls and young women completing the HPV vaccine has dropped by about 63 percent. Those are the findings of a study out of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston.

Published in the May 2012 issue of Cancer, the study finds completion is the lowest among girls aged 9-18. This age group had the steepest decline

"The first generation of women that could benefit from the only HPV-related  cancer vaccine in existence is missing the opportunity," said lead author Abbey B. Berenson, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health (CIRWH) at UTMB.

"This vaccine prevents one of the most devastating cancers in women," Berenson said.

Investigators analyzed the records of about 272,000 female patients covered by a large insurance company who received the vaccine between 2006 and 2009.

In the entire group, only 38.2 of the girls finished the whole series. All age groups saw big drops, except for one - young women aged 27 and older.

The numbers of patients finishing the series - which costs about $500 for all three shots - has declined 63 percent for girls 9-12; 62 percent for teens 13-18; 49 percent for young adults 19-26.

For women 27 and over, the rate of completion has actually gained 37 percent.

A closer look at the numbers finds that these drops come off pretty low numbers to begin with: only 56 percent of 9-12 years olds completed the vaccine in the beginning; 55 percent of teens 13-18; 44 percent for women 19-26.

In the growing category of women 27+, the rates have improved from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Berenson says the younger girls may not be finishing the vaccines because their parents may not be accustomed to taking their daughters to the doctor more than once a year.

The women in their late 20s may be on an uptick, she surmises, because they're responsible for their own health and more doctors are offering the series to women older than the originally recommended age groups.

The HPV vaccine prevents certain strains of HPV linked to cervical cancer, which affects about 500,000 women worldwide.

It also has a protective effect against penile, anal and some oral cancers, which is why it's recommended for boys. 

"It appears that patients and parents do not understand that all three shots of the vaccine are required for HPV protection, and that perhaps physicians are not doing a good enough job of educating and reminding patients to ensure completion," Berenson concluded.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2012
Last Updated:
July 30, 2012