Only 16% of men between the ages of 18 and 21 have received at least one dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at any age, according to researchers at Michigan Medicine, while 42% of women of the same age bracket have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine based on data from the 2010-2018 National Health Interview Surveys.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends two doses of the vaccine at the age of 11 or 12, but people can still benefit if they receive it later, as long as they get three doses by the age of 26.
In the study, however, even among those who were vaccinated after turning 18, less than a third of men received all three vaccine doses, and about half of women did.
“Eighteen- to 21-year-olds are at this age where they’re making healthcare decisions on their own for the first time,” said first author Michelle M. Chen, MD, a clinical lecturer in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
“They’re in a period of a lot of transition, but young adult men especially, who are less likely to have a primary care doctor, are often not getting health education about things like cancer prevention vaccines,” said Chen.
The HPV vaccine was designed to prevent reproductive warts and cancers caused by the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for women in 2006 and expanded it to men in 2009.
Preventing cervical cancer was the primary focus at the time, so girls and women were more likely to hear about it from their pediatricians or OB-GYNS. Yet oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the throat, tonsils, and back of the tongue, has now surpassed cervical cancer as the leading cancer caused by HPV, and 80% of those diagnosed with it are men.
“I don’t think that a lot of people, both providers and patients, are aware that this vaccine is actually a cancer-prevention vaccine for men as well as women,” Chen said. “But HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer can impact anyone, and there’s no good screening for it, which makes vaccination even more important.”
Chen believes a dual-prong approach is necessary to increase the HPV vaccination rate for those who are male, with renewed pushes from pediatricians to target kids and outreach from university health services and fraternity houses for the young adult population who may have missed getting the vaccine when they were younger. Pharmacists as well as urgent care and emergency room providers also could be helpful allies, she said.
The study, “HPV Vaccination Among Young Adults in the United States,” was published by JAMA.
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