A decade ago, the world of medical research celebrated the introduction of the first vaccine proven to protect people from an identified cancer-causing agent. Studies over subsequent years affirmed the effectiveness and safety of the HPV vaccine and its potential to spare tens of thousands of people from having to suffer horrible cancers. Yet, inexcusably, pediatricians and family doctors remain reluctant to recommend the vaccine. A new campaign targeting these doctors aims to boost use of this lifesaving vaccine.
Concern about the limited use of the HPV vaccine in the United States is not new; only 40 percent of teenage girls and 22 percent of teenage boys have been fully inoculated, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From the start, there was controversy about the vaccine, much of it ill-informed. Not surprisingly, much of the misinformation had to do with sex. Because the vaccine prevents the most common sexually transmitted infections linked to the human papillomavirus, which in turn can cause cancer later in life, there was talk that use of the vaccine might encourage teenage promiscuity. There’s no evidence to support that illogical proposition.
A group of the nation’s leading oncologists is hoping to reframe the debate, reports The Post’s Laurie McGinley. They want to put the focus on cancer prevention, and they are directing their efforts at pediatricians and family doctors, identified by researchers as the main obstacle to wider inoculation. The vaccine is recommended for preteens and is important for both girls and boys. Most cervical cancer in women is caused by HPV infections, and the infections can also result in anal, penile and throat cancers.
According to Lois Ramondetta of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, doctors who are not recommending the vaccine are not doing their job. “It’s the equivalent,” she said, “of having patients in their 50s and not recommending a colonoscopy — and then having them come back with cancer.”
Doctors need to heed that sound advice, and further efforts must be made throughout society to tear down misconceptions about the HPV vaccine and to encourage its use. In particular, states that were scared off early on from including the vaccine in the portfolio of shots required (with parental opt-out) for school attendance should revisit this critical public-health issue.