In the Fight against Cancer, a Vaccine Is Underused
People may assume that everyone wants to be vaccinated against cancer, but that is not the case. The HPV vaccine protects against cancer, yet vaccination rates are low. HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the leading cause of cervical cancer in females. Of the 12,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States, 4,000 will die from it. HPV is easily spread during sexual activity. Approximately 20 million Americans are infected, with 6.2 million new infections occurring each year. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point, which demonstrates how common this infection is.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 receive the HPV vaccine—a series of three shots—because it is most effective before a person has begun any type of sexual activity. However, experts worry that teenagers are less likely to get HPV vaccines than any other recommended immunizations for their specific age group. In 2011, just 35 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 nationwide had the necessary series of shots; 53 percent of girls received only one shot. Recently, the vaccination was recommended for boys, but fewer boys than girls have been immunized with the HPV vaccine: 8.3 percent had one shot, and 1.3 percent had three shots.
According to opponents, mandating teens to have the HPV vaccine interferes with parent decision making. It can raise complicated public health, ethical, and political challenges when teen sexual activity and parental authority are concerned. Shortly after the Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine, 24 states introduced bills for the HPV immunization to be compulsory. However, by 2008, lawmakers had turned against the idea. Now only Washington, DC and Virginia require HPV vaccines for school entry; however, both have provisions that allow parents to opt out of having their child vaccinated.
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