Skip to main content
Skip to main content

WKU News

The HPV Vaccine Could Do Even More

By Debbie Saslow, PhD

The HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) have been recommended for girls in the US for nearly 10 years. They protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer, and Gardasil also protects against nearly all cases of genital warts. Uptake of HPV vaccination has been slow in this country, though; less than 35% of girls have gotten all 3 recommended doses.

Despite low vaccination rates, we have already seen HPV infections (related to the types of HPV targeted by the vaccines) drop by 56% in the United States. In countries that have higher vaccine rates, there are even larger drops. Indeed, data published last year suggest that higher vaccination rates could reap great benefits.

The potential to eliminate genital warts

A study from Australia, where more than 70% of adolescent girls are vaccinated, suggests that in countries where vaccine coverage is high, genital warts may be eliminated in the coming decades.

The government-funded Australian HPV vaccine program has provided free vaccine in schools to 12- and 13-year-old girls since 2007. From 2007-2010, free vaccine was also offered to girls and women ages 14-26.

The number of cases of genital warts among young people has dropped dramatically since the program began.

Before the introduction of HPV vaccination, 9.6% of young women seen in sexual health clinics were diagnosed with genital warts; 5 years later only 2.7% of female patients received this diagnosis.  For women under age 21, that rate dropped to less than 1%! All cases of genital warts in this younger age group occurred in women who had not been vaccinated. 

Boys were not included in the program until 2013, and few males in Australia were vaccinated.  Even so, the number of young male patients diagnosed with genital warts fell dramatically, too.  This is most likely explained by indirect protection by those who have been vaccinated. In contrast, no changes in rates of genital warts were observed in women or men over age 30, who are not eligible for the vaccine. 

Fewer cervical pre-cancers

Of course, protecting girls from cervical cancer is the primary goal of the HPV vaccine. The time from HPV infection to cancer can be decades, so it will take more time to see the impact of vaccination on cancer rates. The fact that there are fewer cases of genital warts in those who got the vaccine is an earlier marker of vaccine success.

Based on the trends seen in Australia, it is expected that similar dramatic decreases in cervical (and other) cancers will be observed in coming years.  Indeed the number of high-grade abnormal Pap test results ("pre-cancers") has already declined in Australian young women.  The decreases are expected to happen more slowly in countries with lower uptake of HPV vaccines, such as the U.S.

The potential to reduce oral cancers

HPV is also linked to other types of cancer besides cervical, notably cancers of the throat and tonsils, and it is hoped that HPV vaccination will protect against oral cancers. A study from Costa Rica suggests it can.

In this large vaccine study, researchers tested for the presence of oral HPV 4 years after vaccination. Because we do not have a way to detect oral pre-cancers, it is not possible to predict whether the vaccines will be effective. Nevertheless, this study found only 1 oral HPV infection among girls who had been vaccinated, compared to 15 infections in girls who had not been vaccinated. 

The study, while preliminary, provides promising evidence that HPV vaccines might prevent oral HPV infections, and may also have a significant impact on how many throat and tonsil cancers occur. 

The challenges of getting recommended HPV vaccines

With evidence mounting that the HPV vaccine provides a lot of protection, why aren't more US girls getting it?

A survey of parents who chose not to vaccinate their daughters against HPV showed the five most common reasons are that parents:

1.       Did not think the vaccine was needed or necessary

2.       Said their child was not sexually active

3.       Had concerns about vaccine safety or side effects

4.       Lacked knowledge about the vaccine or HPV

5.       Did not receive a recommendation from the child's health care professional

Eighty-four percent of girls who have not been vaccinated against HPV had a health care visit at which time they received another vaccine. These are major missed opportunities. If all girls ages 11 years and older who had a health care visit and received another vaccine had also received HPV vaccine, HPV vaccination rates could have reached over 92%. 

Education of parents about the vaccine, why it's needed, the importance of vaccinating prior to the onset of sexual activity, and its excellent safety record will help increase vaccine uptake in this country. Education of providers about the importance of recommending the vaccine will also increase the number of girls being vaccinated.



All News  Now Viewing Category: All
Media Relations
President Caboni News
Gordon Ford College of Business
Ogden News
Academic Affairs
WKU Regional Campuses
Glasgow News
Etown & Fort Knox
Owensboro News
The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky
The Center for Gifted Studies
Emergency Preparedness
Housing & Residence Life
Student Activities and Organizations
Augenstein Alumni Center
Campus Activities Board
The Confucius Institute
Cultural Enhancement Series
Department of Music
Department of Theatre & Dance
Development and Alumni Relations
Downing Museum
Downing Student Union
Hardin Planetarium
Health Services
Human Resources News
Instruments of American Excellence
International Student Office
Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport
Library News
Math News
Office of International Programs
Office of Research
Office of Sustainability
Parent's Association
School of Journalism & Broadcasting
Student Financial Assistance
Scholarships Student Financial Assistance
Student Employment
Student Government Association News
Student Research Council
Study Abroad
Van Meter Auditorium
WKU Educational Leadership Doctoral Program News
WKU Joint Admissions
WKU Parent and Family Weekend
Latest Headlines
WKU's Mary Lloyd Moore appointed to advisory council

Mary Lloyd Moore, executive director of WKU’s Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex, has been appointed to the Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bradbury wins the 2017 Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award

Western Kentucky University Libraries has selected River Runs Deep, by Jennifer Bradbury, as the winner of the eleventh Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award.

Kentucky Live presents Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Joel Pett

Joel Pett, publitzer prize-winning editorial cartoonist will be speaking at the next Kentucky Live event on October 19.

Featured Articles
Katherine Crider crowned WKU Homecoming queen

Katherine Crider of Dawson Springs was crowned WKU’s 2017 Homecoming queen on Saturday (Oct. 14).

WKU recognizes top volunteers at Summit Awards

WKU recognized its top volunteers at the annual Summit Awards. Distinguished Service Medals to recognize the service of the University’s top volunteers were presented to Julie Harris Hinson, James G. Meyer and Linda S. Miller.

Robert Reich Visits Grise Hall for a Question & Answer Session with Students

Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view,
download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Note: documents in Excel format (XLS) require Microsoft Viewer,
download excel.

Note: documents in Word format (DOC) require Microsoft Viewer,
download word.

Note: documents in Powerpoint format (PPT) require Microsoft Viewer,
download powerpoint.

Note: documents in Quicktime Movie format [MOV] require Apple Quicktime,
download quicktime.

 Last Modified 5/2/17