Teen Girls and the HPV Vaccine

Human papillomavirus vaccination rates low among adolescent girls, leaving many susceptible to infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) In the US, routine HPV vaccination is recommended for all girls before age 13. So why are so many still not getting vaccinated?

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both commercial and government health plans are not effectively raising human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination levels among teenage girls. The CDC encourages doctors to recommend HPV vaccination to parents the same way they recommend other vaccines for teens.

"Improving HPV vaccination coverage among female adolescents and understanding how the highest-performing health plans support HPV vaccination are needed," according to the CDC report. "Increasing delivery of HPV vaccination at the recommended ages of 11 or 12 years, before most adolescents are exposed to the virus, can ensure adolescents are protected against HPV infections and associated cancers."

HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses named for the genital warts (papillomas) some types can cause. These viruses are transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, especially during sex.

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US — with a reported 79 million men and women ages 15 to 59 currently infected. About 14 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

Although most HPV infections don't present symptoms or cause disease, persistent HPV infection can lead to certain cancers, most prominently cervical cancer. In the US, about 27,000 HPV-attributable cancers occur each year, according to the CDC.

While there are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genitals of both males and females, vaccines are available to prevent infection from the most common ones. The CDC routinely recommends the HPV vaccine for both girls and boys ages 11 to 12.

The vaccine can be given to males through age 21 and females through age 26. However, for HPV vaccines to be most effective, they are recommended to be given prior to exposure.

The HPV vaccine is given in three shots over the course of six months. No booster doses are currently recommended.

To determine whether the HPV vaccine is currently being administered to teens with health insurance as recommended, the CDC and the National Committee for Quality Assurance looked at 2013 data from the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS).

The HEDIS measures the percentage of teen girls with both commercial and Medicaid health plans who received the recommended three-dose HPV vaccine series by age 13.

In 2013, 367 commercial plans and 153 Medicaid plans submitted HEDIS data on HPV vaccination, representing a total of 626,318 teen girls.

The average HPV vaccination coverage levels among 13-year-old girls under commercial and Medicaid plans were 12 and 19 percent, respectively.

According to the CDC, these rates suggest that health plans are performing poorly overall with regard to HPV series vaccination in teen girls.

This study was published Oct. 30 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The authors disclosed no outside funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 29, 2015
Last Updated:
November 4, 2015