The HPV vaccine is one of the few actual methods to prevent cancer, more important than drinking kale-blueberry shakes every day. Thus, this increase in the HPV vaccine uptake in both girls and boys will lead to a long-term decrease in the rate of many cancers.
Let’s take a detailed look at the results of this report.
All about HPV and HPV vaccines
I know I add this section to every article I write about HPV vaccines. It is updated almost every time with additional information about HPV or the vaccine. Moreover, there are readers who want to know more about HPV, and this section can help someone get up-to-speed quickly.
Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
It’s important to note that there are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans – however, only 40 of these strains are linked to one or more different cancers. Of those 40 strain, most are fairly rare.
Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious and many HPV infections resolve themselves without long-term harm, HPV infections are causally linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:
In addition, there is some evidence that HPV infections are causally linked to skin and prostate cancers. The link to skin cancer is still preliminary, but there is much stronger evidence that HPV is linked to many prostate cancers.
HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco in that respect. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV – approximately 14 million Americans contract a new HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. The CDC also states that over 43,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year. It may be several times that amount worldwide.
There were two HPV vaccines on the world market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline, produced Cervarix, a bivalent (protects against two HPV strains) vaccine. It has been withdrawn from the US market (although available in many other markets), because of the competition from the quadrivalent (immunizes against four different HPV strains) and 9-valent (against nine HPV strains) Gardasil vaccines.
Merck manufactures Gardasil, probably the most popular HPV vaccine in the world. The first version of the vaccine, quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.
The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine, protecting against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. It targets the four HPV strains found in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other HPV-related cancers.
Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given to females or males before they become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.
Gardasil is one of the easiest and best ways to prevent a few dangerous and, to abuse the definition slightly, common cancers that afflict men and women. Without a doubt, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer.
Currently, in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 are vaccinated against HPV. The immunization is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.
Let me sum this all up so that if you come away from this section with nothing else, you get this summary. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. HPV causes 43,000 cancers a year in the USA alone. The HPV vaccine prevents becoming infected by HPV, which means you are protected from these cancers.
The HPV vaccine uptake study
A report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) examined data from the 2013−2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to examine HPV vaccine uptake during that time period. The NHIS is a nationally representative household survey of the civilian noninstitutionalized U.S. population. It is conducted continuously throughout the year by the NCHS).
The analysis included over 21,000 individuals of both genders, so this is a very powerful type of survey. Just as a comparison, most political polls have fairly low standard errors with just a few hundred participants.
Some of the key results of the HPV vaccine uptake study were:
- Among adults aged 18−26, the percentage who ever received one or more doses of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine increased from 22.1% in 2013 to 39.9% in 2018. Although this is a significant improvement, it is still too low to eliminate HPV-related cancers.
- The percentage of adults aged 18−26 who received the recommended number of doses of HPV vaccine increased from 13.8% in 2013 to 21.5% in 2018.
- In 2018, non-Hispanic white adults were more likely than Hispanic adults to have ever received one or more doses of the HPV vaccine.
- By the end of 2018, 53% of women in that age range had received one or more doses of the vaccine.
- Of course, this means that the proportion of young men who received at least one dose of vaccine more than doubled from less than 10% in 2013 to almost 30% in 2018. This is probably a result of the delay in the indication for the vaccine for men.
- Amazingly, about 9% of respondents in 2018 didn’t know whether they had received the vaccine or not. I don’t even know what to say about that data point.
Although the near doubling in the HPV vaccine uptake over five years is extremely encouraging, we are far from the 80-90% level that is important to reduce the transmission of these dangerous HPV subtypes that cause cancer.
It is our job to continue to proselytize for this amazing cancer-preventing vaccine. It is our job to continue to squash the myths about the HPV vaccine.
- Van Dyne EA, Henley SJ, Saraiya M, Thomas CC, Markowitz LE, Benard VB. Trends in Human Papillomavirus-Associated Cancers – United States, 1999-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Aug 24;67(33):918-924. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6733a2. PubMed PMID: 30138307.