ID Consult

Recommending HPV vaccination: How would you grade yourself?


A few weeks ago, a patient asked whether he could get my opinion on something unrelated to his yellow fever vaccine visit: He asked what I thought about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. His daughter’s primary care physician (PCP) had recommended it, but he “heard that it wasn’t safe.” We had a brief discussion.

My pediatric training days have long since ended, but I was taught never to miss an opportunity to immunize. In this case, it was to help a parent decide to immunize. This type of encounter is not unusual because, as part of preparing persons for international travel, I review their routine immunizations. When documentation of a vaccine is absent, it is pointed out and often remedied after a brief discussion.

Unfortunately, with HPV, too often parents state “my primary care physician said” it was optional, it was not required, or it was never recommended. Some were told to wait until their child was older, and several have safety concerns as did the parent above. I sometimes hear, “it’s not necessary for my child”; this is usually a clue indicating that the issue is more likely about how HPV is transmitted than what HPV vaccine can prevent. Most have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the vaccine, hear about its benefits, and have their questions answered. All leave with HPV information and are directed to websites that provide accurate information. They are referred to their PCP – hopefully to be immunized.

Three vaccines – meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV), Tdap, and HPV vaccine – all are recommended for administration at 11-12 years of age. A booster of MCV is recommended at 16 years. However, let’s focus on HPV. In 2007, HPV administration was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for girls; by 2011, the recommendation was extended to boys. It was a three-dose schedule expected to be completed by age 13 years. In December 2016, a two-dose schedule administered at least 6 months apart was recommended for teens who initiated immunization at less than 15 years. Three doses were still recommended for those initiating HPV after 15 years. This was the only time the number of doses to complete a vaccine series had been decreased based on postlicensure data. So how well are we protecting our patients from HPV-related cancers?

Vaccine coverage

The National Immunization Survey–Teen (NIS-Teen) monitors vaccine coverage annually amongst adolescents aged 13-17 years. Data are obtained from individuals from every state, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and six major urban areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2018 Aug 24;67[33]:909-17), HPV vaccination continues to lag behind Tdap and MCV in 2018. Among all adolescents, coverage with one or more doses of HPV was 66%, with up-to-date HPV status in 49%. In contrast, 82% received a dose of MCV, and 89% received a dose of Tdap.

Coverage for receiving one or more doses of HPV among females was 69%, and up-to-date HPV status was 53%; among males, coverage with one or more doses was 63%, and up-to-date HPV status was 44%.

Up-to-date HPV coverage status differed geographically, ranging from 29% in Mississippi to 78% in DC. Overall, eight states and the District of Columbia reported increases in up-to-date status (District of Columbia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia). Kudos to Virginia for having the largest increase (20 percentage points).

Coverage also differed between urban and rural areas: one or more doses at 70% vs. 59% and up-to-date status at 52% vs. 42%.

HPV coverage differed by poverty level as well. It was higher for persons living below the poverty level, with one or more doses in 73% and up-to-date status in 54%, compared with persons living at or above poverty level at 63% and 47%, respectively.

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