The HPV Vaccine: The Science And The Reluctance

With Anthony Brooks in for Tom Asbhrook

The number of teen girls with cancer-causing HPV, the human papillomavirus, has dropped by half with the vaccine. But two-thirds of girls — never mind boys — still don’t get it. We dig in.

A teen girl receives an intramuscular immunization from a qualified nurse. The CDC says the two brands of HPV vaccine (Cervarix and Gardasil) are "licensed, safe and effective" for both males and females, ages 9 through 26. The vaccine is also recommended for men who have sex with men, through age 26. (James Gathany, Judy Schmidt/CDC)

A teen girl receives an intramuscular immunization from a qualified nurse. The CDC says the two brands of HPV vaccine (Cervarix and Gardasil) are “licensed, safe and effective” for females, ages 9 through 26. Gardasil is also licensed for males, ages 9 through 26 years. Routine vaccination is recommended for boys and girls at age 11 or 12 years and through age 26 for females and age 21 for males who have not been previously vaccinated. The vaccine is also recommended for men who have sex with men, through age 26. (James Gathany, Judy Schmidt/CDC)

If you could inoculate your child against the threat of cancer, why wouldn’t you? The question follows a striking new study about the human papillomavirus.

HPV is the  most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and a major cause of cervical cancer.

The good news is there’s an effective vaccine that has cut HPV infection rates in half. But just one in three American teenage girls have been fully vaccinated.

This hour, On Point: The HPV vaccine and protecting the next generation from cancer.


Dr. Lauri Markowitz, medical epidemiologist in the Division of STD Prevention and lead researcher for the HPV Vaccine Working Group of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She’s the lead author of the new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that found a reduction in HPV among young women.

Dr. Rebecca Perkins, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine. She studies the HPV vaccination and the factors influencing rates of HPV vaccination in low-income adolescents.

Dr. Amanda Dempsey, physician and professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Outcomes Research Program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She focuses on barriers to implementing recommended childhood and adolescent vaccines, including parental vaccine hesitancy and vaccination policy.

From The Reading List

CDC: HPV Vaccine — Questions & Answers

National Cancer Institute: Human Papillomavirus Vaccines Fact Sheet

The New York Times: Will Parents Still Turn Down An ‘Anti-Cancer Vaccine’? — “The HPV vaccine is not a popular one in the United States. More than 40 percent of parents say their children are not up to date on the HPV vaccine (three doses are recommended over a six-month period for boys and girls aged 11-12), and that they do not intend to seek out the vaccine for their sons and daughters.”

WBUR: Cancer From Oral Sex? Michael Douglas Is Not Making It Up — “A growing body of research suggests that his claim is not entirely far-fetched: Rates of head and throat cancer linked to HPV have been rising dramatically in American men. (File under: Reasons the new HPV vaccines are recommended for boys as well as girls.)”

TIME: HPV Vaccine Doesn’t Lead To Promiscuous Tweens — “Girls who are vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV) are no more likely to engage in sexually risky behaviors than girls who don’t receive the vaccine, says a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.”

Additional Segment: Improving Condoms

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently opened up a competition to design a better condom.

Pam Belluck (@PamBelluck), health and science writer for The New York Times, joins us to talk about her piece, “Getting Men To Want to Use Condoms.”

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