Safety concerns are a main reason American parents hesitate to have their children vaccinated against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, according to a new study.
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The finding challenges a common reason given by doctors for not recommending the vaccine more forcefully — that parents are concerned the vaccination will lead to greater sexual activity among children.
The vaccine protects against the HPV virus, which can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, mouth and anus. Despite recommendations to include the HPV vaccine in routine childhood vaccinations, its use remains low in the United States.
The study findings appear in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“We wanted to better understand why parents choose not to vaccinate their children against HPV, since that information is critical for developing improved public health campaigns and provider messages to increase vaccination rates,” study author Anne Rositch said in a journal news release. She’s an assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore.
The findings show that public health campaigns should focus on persistent concerns about the safety and necessity of the vaccine for both boys and girls, the researchers said.
“We think all physicians need to be champions of this vaccine that has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of cases of cancers each year,” said study co-author Dr. Anna Beavis, an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Hopkins. “Providing a strong recommendation is a powerful way to improve vaccination rates.”
The study looked at data from a series of surveys on vaccine usage conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2010 and 2016. Thousands of parents of teens ages 13 to 17 were asked if their children had had the vaccine, if they planned to get it and, if not, why.
Among parents of girls in the most recent survey, 22 percent cited safety as the reason for not having their daughters vaccinated against HPV. One in 5 parents withheld the vaccine because they didn’t think it was necessary. Thirteen percent didn’t have enough knowledge about HPV; 10 percent said their doctor hadn’t recommended it, and 10 percent cited their child’s lack of sexual activity.
Among parents of boys, the chief reasons for not having their sons vaccinated against HPV were: lack of necessity (22 percent); followed by no doctor recommendation (17 percent), and lack of knowledge (14 percent).
Fourteen percent of parents of boys mentioned safety concerns, 9 percent cited their son’s lack of sexual activity, and 2 percent said gender was the reason.
In 2016, only 50 percent of eligible females and 38 percent of eligible males had completed the HPV vaccine series, according to background notes with the study.