“Although HPV vaccination rates in the United States have steadily improved over the past decade, a sizable subset of parents remains highly hesitant about administering the vaccine to their adolescent children,” wrote Eric Adjei Boakye, PhD, of the departments of public health sciences and otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, and associates. But a silver lining in the study is the downward trend in parents not vaccinating their children against HPV because the child’s provider did not recommend it.
“Provider recommendation has been shown to be the single best predictor of HPV vaccine uptake and vaccine acceptability,” the authors wrote. They noted one previous study finding that provider recommendations for the vaccine had increased from 27% in 2012 to 49.3% in 2018.
Safety concerns increased while other concerns decreased
The findings were not surprising to Robert A. Bednarczyk, PhD, associate professor of global health at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, who specializes in HPV vaccine research.
“We have seen over the years that vaccine safety concerns have been on the increase, notably recently in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination program, but HPV vaccine safety, though well established, continues to be a major concern for parents,” Dr. Bednarczyk said in an interview. But he found it striking that parents’ other reasons for turning down the vaccine had declined. “This shows that the outreach around the need for HPV vaccination and efforts to improve provider recommendation strategies is likely having positive impacts on HPV vaccine attitudes.”
Top five reasons for not vaccinating
The researchers analyzed data from the National Immunization Survey–Teen for the years 2010 through 2020 to track the annual changes in the top five reasons cited for not planning to get the HPV vaccine. The data covered 119,695 teens aged 13-17.
The researchers identified parents’ five most commonly cited reasons for not planning to vaccinate their children against HPV: “not necessary,” “safety concerns,” “lack of recommendation,” “lack of knowledge,” and “not sexually active.”
Parents’ HPV vaccine hesitancy decreased by 5.5% each year from 2010 to 2012, but then it stagnated for the remaining years through 2020. Across most of that time, from 2010 to 2018, parents’ concerns about the vaccine’s safety and side effects increased by 15.6%. A major reason for this increase, the authors suggested, may include the widespread distribution of online misinformation, particularly given the 7.8 million increase in antivaccine social media accounts since 2019.
“Fear tactics are often used by antivaccine campaigners to dissuade parents from vaccinating their children. There have been several myths propagated about vaccines causing adverse reactions,” the authors wrote. “Although these myths have been scientifically debunked, they continue to circulate.”
In contrast to parents’ concerns, a study in 2021 found a downward trend in reports of nonserious adverse effects and no change in reports of serious adverse effects from the HPV vaccine between 2015 and 2018. Further, more than 95% of the adverse effect reports to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System after HPV vaccination were nonserious.