The HPV Vaccine Prevents Cancer. So Why Aren't More Kids Getting It?

What every parent needs to know about this potentially life-saving shot

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The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is the only vaccine currently available that can effectively prevent certain types of cancers, including cervical and throat. Yet vaccination rates for the virus — which is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), infecting 14 million new people per year — still remain low compared with other childhood vaccines.

While HPV vaccination has certainly been increasing in recent years — 54% of girls and 45% of boys were immunized in 2016 — it’s still significantly below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80% for 15-year-olds, according to a new study presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2019 Meeting.

What’s more, the rates vary widely across states, according to study author Szu-Ta Chen, M.D. For example, the study found that 60% of 15-year-old girls were fully vaccinated in just 13 states. For boys, the numbers were considerably worse: Only three states reached that threshold. One of the biggest obstacles? Lack of education about the risks of HPV infection and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

What Every Parent Needs to Know About the HPV Vaccine

While myths still surround the HPV vaccine, it’s important to know that it’s highly effective and has only mild, short-term side effects.

In the four years after the vaccine was officially recommended in the U.S., infections with the four types of HPV covered in the original vaccine plummeted by more than half in teen girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The latest vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against nine different high-risk types of HPV— seven that can cause cervical and other cancers and two that can cause genital warts, according to the National Cancer Institute.

All kids (yes, boys too!) who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine, according to CDC. That’s because the vaccine is most effective if given before kids become sexually active. But depending on the specific situation, people as young as 9 and as old as 45 can also get the vaccine.

See more helpful articles:

HPV-Related Throat Cancers Are Rising in Men — So Why Isn't There a Screening Test Available?

Yes, Boys Should Get the HPV Vaccine: 5 Things to Know

Genital Warts and HPV: Diagnosis, Treatment, and More