The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that the rate of HPV infection among teenage girls has dropped by more than 50% since the introduction of the HPV vaccine.
As many of you know, I have been involved with this issue for many years and have been an ardent advocate for universal vaccination of both girls and boys in accordance with the CDC guidelines. The Human Papillomavirus is the most common cause of sexually transmitted infections. More than half of women and men who are sexually active become infected with HPV during their lifetime. The HPV virus is also responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer, and this year more than 12,000 women will be diagnosed with this deadly cancer. More than 4,000 of them will die.
Despite the unprecedented decline in HPV infection rates, we are now seeing disappointing data that highlights a drop in vaccination rates among girls in the years since vaccine approval. School-based vaccine programs have been suggested as a means to improve the vaccination rate, but have not been embraced by most states. Our Women’s Cancer Program (WCP) staff has been directly involved in this issue as well. With funding from The David & Linda Shaheen Foundation, we initiated an unprecedented dual-language pilot program in four LAUSD schools that helped girls talk to their parents about the vaccine.
In a study published June 19, in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, researchers presented exciting data demonstrating that the HPV vaccine is working. The research conducted by the CDC provided evidence of a drop in the rate of HPV infection among teenage girls from 11.5% in 2006 to a current rate of 5.1%—despite the fact that only about a third of the teenage girls in the US have been adequately vaccinated. This is outstanding news and validation of our efforts to protect our children—and someday their children. Even through repeated attempts by some to tie the vaccine to increased sexual activity and dangerous “side effects”—that have consistently been refuted—the science and public health benefits have prevailed. And, we are now realizing this striking success in the short time since the vaccine was approved.
For those of you who have supported our work at WCP, I hope you share our excitement about this unprecedented achievement in the field of cancer. According to CDC’s Director, Thomas Frieden, MD, MPh “This vaccine works well, and this report should be a wake-up call to our nation to protect the next generation by increasing HPV vaccination rates.” I agree and we will continue to focus on the work that remains— increasing public education and the rates of vaccination. Let’s join together to have cervical cancer go the way of polio and smallpox—and become nearly eradicated by early preventative vaccination.
This is my challenge to you. We have reliable data that this vaccine works and is safe. The vaccine is approved for both girls and boys. And, I assure you I practice what I preach—both of my children are vaccinated. There is clear evidence that we can stop cancer caused by the HPV virus. I hope you will think about the kids in your life and talk to your physician about vaccination. I remain committed to the eradication of cervical cancer—and hope that you share my passion about protecting future generations.
Beth Y. Karlan, MD