Only 16% of Young Teenagers Protected From Cancer

Gardasil 9 offers protection from cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, mouth, throat, and anal cancers in women and men

young teens whispering

About 15.8 percent of U.S. adolescents have been fully vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) by the time they turn 13 years old, according to a new study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 

Timely HPV vaccination at 11 to 12 years of age has several advantages said these researchers, such as the following: 

  • The immune response to the vaccine is stronger at a younger age, providing better protection against HPV infections and the cancers they can cause later in life,
  • If an adolescent is vaccinated before age 15, only 2 doses of the HPV vaccine are required, instead of the 3 doses that are recommended for vaccination after this age,
  • In addition, the HPV vaccine is one of 3 vaccines recommended for 11-to-12-year-olds that can be given at the same time. The Tdap and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine are the other recommended immunizations at these ages. 

Additionally, this new analysis found that adolescents with more than one health care provider were not as likely to be up to date on their HPV vaccination by age 13 or 15. 

Overall, an estimated 43.4 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds were fully vaccinated against HPV. 

Among older teens, an estimated 34.8 percent of teens were up-to-date on their HPV vaccination by the time they turned 15.  

These new findings highlight the need for stronger efforts to encourage HPV vaccination and to improve immunization rates in this key age group. 

“Providers need to be aware that, while we have seen gains in HPV vaccination coverage, we are still falling behind at the younger ages,” says Robert A. Bednarczyk, Ph.D., of Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and lead author of the study. 

“In general, we need to do a better job of recommending the HPV vaccine at the routine, adolescent, and well-child visits, with a particular focus on 11 to 12 years of age,” said Dr. Bednarczyk in a press release.

Nearly 80 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with some type of HPV, a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. 

Every year, HPV causes approximately 34,000 cancers, including cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women; penile cancer in men; and mouth, throat, and anal cancer in women and men, says   

The most recent version of the vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against the most common types of HPV that cause cancer. 

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Additionally, in October 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the application of Gardasil 9 to include both women and men younger than 45 years old, and older than 8 years of age.   

In a related editorial commentary, Melissa B. Gilkey, Ph.D., and Marjorie A. Margolis, MPSH, both of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and who were not involved with the new study, noted that the results indicate much work remains to achieve HPV vaccination rates in line with the current U.S. guidelines. 

“Fully realizing the potential of HPV vaccination will require a multi-faceted effort involving scalable health systems interventions, a greater understanding of geographic disparities in HPV vaccination coverage, and improved data on HPV vaccination,” they wrote in their commentary, which appears with the study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 

As the findings show, they noted, “vaccination timeliness is critically low and our work is far from complete.” 

HPV Fast Facts: 

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. HPV can cause several types of cancer in women and men.
  • Only about 16 percent of U.S. adolescents have been fully vaccinated against HPV by the time they turn 13, despite national recommendations calling for vaccination at 11 to 12 years of age.
  • Completing HPV vaccination by age 13 compared to later has several advantages, including a stronger immune response to the vaccine, providing better protection against HPV infections and the cancers they can cause. 

HPV vaccines can be found in most authorized pharmacies and physician offices in the USA.

To schedule a vaccination appointment, please visit this page.

The CDC Vaccine Price List provides HPV vaccine prices for general information. And vaccine discounts can be found here. 

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, says the CDC. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of vaccines to the FDA or CDC.

This study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The study authors’ and editorial commentary authors’ affiliations, acknowledgments, and disclosures of financial support and potential conflicts of interests, if any, are available in the study and the commentary.