Report: Only one-third of girls receiving HPV vax

Roughly two-thirds of young women eligible for receiving the HPV vaccine are aren't getting the shot--even though it can help guard against cervical cancer, according to a new report from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The HPV vaccine prevents four strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, two of which are found in about 70 percent of all women with cervical cancer. Both the American Cancer Society and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend that women and girls receive the vaccine, but the new data shows that only 34 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 were vaccinated in the six states surveyed--Delaware, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia. Study author Sandi Pruitt and senior investigator Mario Schootman analyzed data from 1,709 girls in 274 counties of the six states. The findings are published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

More than 70 percent of the girls in this study were white, and almost 75 percent had health insurance. Girls living in states with more poverty were less likely to get the HPV vaccine, but higher poverty rates in the individual counties within those states and lower family income levels actually made it more likely a girl would be vaccinated. Pruitt says those seemingly contradictory findings may be explained in part by the way in which funding for vaccines is allocated.

"Individual states set different guidelines for providing vaccines to those with no insurance versus those who may be underinsured," Pruitt explains. "So girls from poorer counties may be more likely to qualify for a free vaccine, whereas those states with more poverty may not have adequate funding to provide it or may be less likely to fill in gaps for those who may not have enough private insurance coverage to pay for it."

As Portfolio.com points out, the practice of encouraging HPV vaccinations in young girls has its critics. Merck was criticized for the way it aggressively pushed for mandatory vaccinations of young girls with its blockbuster Gardasil. And now it is facing competition from GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix.

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