After years of upward ticks, HPV vaccination rates still lag far behind U.S. goal

HPV vaccination rates have increased about 5% per year in recent years, according to the CDC. (Pixabay)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have been pushing HPV vaccination, and in 2017—just as in the previous four years—those efforts yielded only a slight increase. About half of U.S. adolescents have been fully vaccinated against the cancer-causing virus, far short of the 80% officials are aiming for by 2020.

The figures come courtesy of the CDC, which reports 65.5% of adolescents received at least one dose of an HPV shot, while 48.6% completed the course. Both numbers represent about a 5% increase over 2016 and follow increases of about the same amount each year since 2013.

Merck & Co. controls the HPV vaccination market in the U.S. with its blockbuster shot Gardasil 9, thanks to GlaxoSmithKline's decision to pull its rival shot, Cervarix, out of the market. Last year, the Merck vaccine captured $1.57 billion in the US and $2.3 billion around the world.

RELATED: HPV vaccination rates ticking upward, CDC says as it urges more uptake 

The CDC's report comes in the wake of the agency's move to change its HPV vaccine recommendations to a two-dose regimen instead of three, hoping to increase uptake. It's “too early to assess” whether that change has affected vaccination rates, though, the CDC report said.

And even as the numbers represent an increase over 2016’s rates, coverage holes remain. Fewer adolescents in rural areas are getting the vaccines compared with their peers in urban areas. And boys still trail girls in HPV vaccination rates nationwide.

All in all, the figures come short of a HHS "Healthy People 2020" goal of an 80% coverage rate for boys and girls in 2020.

RELATED: CDC aims to jump-start Gardasil uptake with a new two-dose HPV shot schedule 

Alongside the report, the CDC released findings that about 43,000 people in the U.S. developed an HPV-associated cancer in 2015. The agency notes vaccination could prevent 90% of the cases and recommends boys and girls ages 11 to 12 receive two doses of the vaccine at least 6 months apart. 

Despite Gardasil's ongoing growth—and the U.S. efforts to amp up vaccination rates—it's not the U.S. that Merck is touting as a source of expansion going forward. Executives figure the franchise can continue its upward march as other countries around the world promote HPV vaccination. As one example, the U.K. government just last month decided that, after years of protest by activists, the vaccine should be given to boys as well as girls.