Human papillomavirus (HPV) infects an estimated 79 million U.S. adults, and ≥ 30,000 HPV-related cancers occur each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Native American women living in the Northern Plains and Midwest are twice as likely as the national average to report HPV infection. In some regions, American Indians are 4 times more likely to get cervical cancer, the most common HPV-related cancer.
While vaccination rates are higher among American Indian youth than other groups, rates for the HPV vaccine remain low: Only 39% of females and 26% of males have had all 3 doses.
Studies have shown the vaccine prevents strains of HPV that lead to 70% of HPV-related cancers in men and women, such as oropharyngeal, penile, cervical, and vaginal, the CDC reported. But there are still misconceptions about HPV that help keep vaccination rates low, says Delf Schmidt-Grimminger, a senior scientist with the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota and the Avera Cancer Institute, in an article for Native Health News Alliance. One misconception is that boys do not need the vaccination; however, both boys and girls should be vaccinated to eradicate the disease. Preteens are the targeted group because the vaccine is most effective when given before individuals become sexually active. The vaccines are available and free for most American Indian children at any clinic.