The HPV vaccine is safe and effective, and it prevents cancer. The vaccine works, even better than we had hoped. How often can we say we have something that we know can protect the next generation against cancer? Twenty-seven thousand HPV-related cancers are diagnosed every year in the United States and HPV vaccination could prevent most of them.
However, HPV vaccination rates continue to lag behind those of the Tdap and meningococcal vaccines, which are also recommended at ages 11 or 12. When we ask parents why they aren't making sure their 11- and 12-year-olds are receiving the vaccine, many say their doctor didn't recommend it.
I'm asking pediatric and family medicine clinicians to strengthen your recommendations. You can eliminate missed opportunities. You can recommend and administer the HPV vaccine to all preteens during the same visit that you recommend and administer the Tdap and meningococcal vaccines.
The best way to do this is to give a bundled recommendation for all three of these vaccines without singling out HPV vaccine. Reviewing vaccination status at every healthcare visit can also help reduce missed opportunities. And you can use electronic medical records or registry systems to set up reminders to recommend the vaccines that your preteen patients need.
If parents have questions about HPV, remind them that the HPV vaccine prevents cancer. If they ask why the vaccine is required at such a young age, you can help them understand that we want to be sure that it is given early enough to protect their children. The issue of kids having sex is an uncomfortable one. But this isn't about sex. It's about preventing cancer.
A mother and Republican Congresswoman recently said to me, "I'm going to make sure that my daughter gets her vaccine at age 11. After all, even if she waits until she gets married many years later, she's still going to be at risk then, so why wait?" Parents are reassured when you share that you made sure that your child, grandchild, or other close family member received the vaccine, as I did for my family.
If we don't make progress increasing the number of children vaccinated, we are risking the health of the next generation.
Tom Frieden, MD, MPH
August 18, 2014