Wednesday, October 5, 2016

More U.S. Adolescents Are Getting the HPV Vaccine ― But We Can Do Better

By Jason V. Terk, MD
Keller pediatrician

Another recently published NIS-Teen survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the rates for HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination are … slightly better than last year. If that seems like an underwhelming result, then you are right. Progress with this vaccine after 10 years of licensure and recommendation for tweens and teens is incremental at best.

You might think otherwise for a vaccine against cancer. But many factors have combined to make acceptance of this vaccine tragically slow. Why tragic? The cancers this vaccine prevents are truly horrible. Mortality rates are bad enough, with survival rates dropping dramatically if these cancers are not caught early. But even when the cancers are caught early and can be treated surgically, survivors are left disfigured and disabled in ways that impact them for the rest of their lives.

We know what needs to be done to improve delivery of this vaccine. The most important factor is providing an affirmative, unequivocal recommendation by the physicians and other health care providers involved in the care of the adolescent eligible to receive the HPV vaccine. Nearly as important are having the skills and knowledge necessary to answer questions or concerns expressed by the parent about the HPV vaccine.

A ton of misinformation is available online about the HPV vaccine, and we physicians have to be ready to respond to it. Finally, we must be prepared and willing to push back against initial resistance. Published studies show that up to 50 percent of parents initially resisting a recommended vaccine will ultimately consent to it if the provider spends time to find out about and respond to the cause of the initial resistance.

If we make it our goal to make sure each and every one of our eligible patients gets the HPV vaccine, and plan ahead before engaging parents about it, we are sure to see better performance in providing the vaccine. And we will see more rapid improvement. No pediatric provider wants a current patient to become a future patient of the adult oncologist for cancers we can prevent now!

By Jason V. Terk, MD
Cook Children’s Physician Network
Keller, TX
Committee on Federal Government Affairs
American Academy of Pediatrics
Member, Texas Medical Association Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel

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