The HPV vaccine is important, but is your doctor getting you the information you need to make the right decision?
Are you protected against the human papillomavirus? An alarming report from UPI reveals that U.S. doctors haven’t been the best at communicating the need for the vaccine to their patients; roughly one fourth of U.S. doctors do not strongly advise their patients to get the vaccine, and roughly two thirds only recommend the vaccine to teens who they perceive as facing a high risk for an STI.
Doctors reported that they were uncomfortable discussing sexually transmitted infections with patients, or worried that the patient’s parents would reject the idea. As a result, many doctors downplay the seriousness of HPV, which results in less effective vaccination campaigns across the country.
A recent study in Texas found that a more data driven outreach program increased the number of preteens who received the vaccination, and research from the past ten years shows that the vaccine is effective at preventing cancer, but does not have the unwanted side effect of making teens more promiscuous.
According to Dr. Melissa Gilkey, an assistant professor of population medicine at the Harvard Medical School, “We were surprised that physicians so often reported recommending HPV vaccination inconsistently, behind schedule, or without urgency. Of the five communication practices we assessed, about half of physicians reported two or more practices that likely discourage timely HPV vaccination. We are currently missing many opportunities to protect today’s young people from future HPV-related cancers. Helping providers communicate about the HPV vaccine effectively is a promising strategy for getting more adolescents vaccinated.”
Dr. Gilkey and team of researchers carried out an online survey gauging 775 pediatricians’ and family doctors’ stance on the vaccine, the quality of their endorsements, consistency of recommendations across all patients, urgency of vaccination, and timelines for completing full courses of vaccination.
Over ¼ of the physicians, roughly 27 percent, did not strongly endorse the vaccine to their patients. Doctors offered more timely recommendations to girls than boys; 26 percent of doctors did not recommend the vaccination on time for females and 39 percent let the window of opportunity close for males.
Nearly 60 percent of doctors reported that they recommended the vaccine based on their own opinions about the patient’s risk of contracting HPV. Only 51 percent suggested that the vaccine course begin on the same day of the visit when it was first recommended.
Doctors who have been more successful in recommending vaccinations reportedly opened the conversation by saying that the child was due for the vaccine, instead of leaving the decision to their parents.
The results of the study are slightly discouraging, but this trend has been seen before. The recent Texas study mentioned earlier found that providing information to patients about the vaccine, discussing this information with the parents of patients who were worried, and following up with patients resulted in an overall increase in vaccination rates.
“Physicians have a lot of influence on whether adolescents receive the HPV vaccine,” Dr. Gilkey said. “Our findings suggest that physicians can improve their recommendations in three ways: by recommending HPV vaccination for all 11-to-12-year-olds and not just those who appear to be at risk; by saying the HPV vaccine is very important; and by suggesting vaccination on the day of the visit rather than at a later date.”
The study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.
According to the CDC, HPV vaccines are important. They protect against cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, which is extremely common in the U.S. – roughly 80 million people, or about 25 percent of the population, are currently infected. About 14 million new cases arise each year. HPV infection can lead to cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer, cancer of the back end of the throat, or oropharynx, and genital warts in both men and women.
The CDC recommends that boys and girls receive vaccination at age 11 or 12 to ensure protection against future exposure. The HPV vaccine also bolsters the immune system during the preteen years. Older teenagers are less likely to see their physician than younger preteens, so vaccinating children against HPV at an early age is a good idea. The vaccine is delivered in three shots. The second shot is administered one to two months after the first, and a third shot is given six months after the first shot. The CDC recommends that the entire course of the vaccination be administered.
Young preteens aren’t the only ones who can be vaccinated for HPV. Teenaged boys and girls who didn’t start or finish their vaccination can still get it, and young women can be vaccinated all the way through age 26. Young men can be vaccinated until age 21. Men who have sex with other men are recommended to get vaccinated through age 26, provided they were not vaccinated at an earlier age.