The HPV Vaccine Has Cut Infection Rate By Two-Thirds In Teen Girls

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Last we checked, the number of girls getting the HPV vaccine left something to be desired. In 2014, 40% of teen girls were unvaccinated, even though the shot is recommended for all girls and young women starting at age 11 to 12 until 26. Despite that, a new study suggests that the rate of HPV infection among young women has still dropped since the introduction of the vaccine, particularly among teen girls.

Researchers looked at the prevalence of HPV infection in women during two time periods — a snapshot of the "prevaccine era," or 2003 to 2006 (Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine, was introduced in the summer of 2006), and a portion of the "vaccine era," or between 2009 to 2012. The women were grouped into the following age ranges: 14 to 19, 20 to 24, 25 to 29, and 30 to 34 years old.

Although there was no major change in infection rates among women 25 and older between the two eras, the rate of infection decreased by 64% in the 14- to 19-year-old range. Infection rates also fell among 20- to 24-year-olds by 34%.

The dramatic drop in infection among teens can be attributed to their being the group with the highest vaccination rate, the researchers wrote in the paper. Between 2009 and 2012, 51% of teen girls received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to only 32% of those between 20 and 24. (Far fewer older women got the vaccine, probably because experts don't recommend it for that group.)

A survey of doctors, also published in Pediatrics this month, found that doctors are more likely to recommend the vaccine to girls, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says boys should get it, too. The closer to age 11 or 12 that vaccination happens for boys and girls, the better: not only because it makes sense to do it before exposure happens, but also because the immune response is more robust at that age.

The findings from the current study, however, are still good news — even for those who remain unvaccinated, since those who are protected from the virus are less likely to contract it and spread it to others.

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