Preteens only need to get two doses of the HPV vaccine, not the previously recommended three, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Wednesday, the CDC’s immunization advisory panel voted, and CDC Director Tom Frieden agreed, to recommend the two-round schedule for adolescents aged 11 to 12.
Experts hope that the abbreviated vaccination schedule will encourage more parents to get their kids the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against strains of the virus that can cause genital warts and cervical, anal, head, and neck cancers. The CDC and the immunization advisory panel made their decision after reviewing clinical trials in which two doses of the HPV vaccine in people aged 9-14 years triggered an immune response greater than or equal to that triggered by three doses in people aged 16-26 years.
The CDC has pegged the 11-12 age range as the optimal period to vaccinate against HPV, because those preteens are going to the doctor for meningitis and Tdap shots anyway, their immune responses are high, and they likely haven’t become sexually active (and thus exposed to HPV) yet. But the new guidelines allow for just two doses of the HPV vaccine, administered between six months and a year apart, for adolescents as young as 9 and as old as 14. Those who get the vaccine between 15 and 26 years of age will still need three doses within a single six-month period.
Adolescents already sometimes drop off after the first or second dose of the vaccine. In 2014, 60 percent of girls aged 13-17 had gotten at least one round of the vaccine, but only 40 percent had completed the set of three doses. (Only 42 percent of adolescent boys had gotten at least one dose.) Making it seem easier to complete the cycle of shots will hopefully encourage more parents to protect their kids from developing HPV-related cancers, which are on the rise in the U.S., when they get older.
Still, one of the main barriers to improving the nation’s HPV vaccination rates, which lag well behind those of other developed countries, is a widespread fear of teen sexuality. This leads parents to assume, against all evidence, that getting a shot to prevent a sexually transmitted virus will encourage teens to have more sex. The prospect of making two trips to the doctor’s office instead of three is nice, but when parents are making emotion-driven decisions that will affect their children’s health for a lifetime, it may not be enough to sway them.