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HPV vaccine study shows major geographic disparities in people receiving or completing doses to fight the cancer-causing disease


Vaccination against the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus, is now considered routine. HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer and can cause other cancers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the vaccine be given to all 11- and 12-year-olds and everyone through age 26 who has not yet received it.

So why isn’t everyone eligible getting vaccinated?

In an attempt to answer that question, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center looked at where people are following through with the two-dose vaccine.

In a new study, they show wide geographical variation in HPV vaccination, and conclude that while an average of 40.5 percent of eligible recipients begin the two-shot vaccine series, only 23.4 percent finish.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, analyzed 25 previous papers published between 2006 and 2020. The research showed large disparities in where people receive and follow through with the vaccine.

In the Northeast, coverage can be as high as 77.7 percent (in Rhode Island), but the Southern United States lags behind. In Mississippi, for example, just 28.8 percent of eligible people were up to date on their HPV vaccinations. Blue states had higher HPV vaccination rates than red ones, as did states with sex education mandates. And though poorer states fared less well than richer ones, higher county-level poverty was associated with higher HPV vaccination rates.

The variability of the data and inconsistent analyses concerned the researchers, who recommend more standardization, stronger analytical approaches and an attempt to collect more information in smaller geographic areas.

“Given the effect that HPV vaccination has had on cancer prevention, it is important to identify factors influencing HPV vaccination coverage,” lead author Bernard Fuemmeler said in a news release.

Today, nearly 80 million Americans have the virus, and about 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected each year. Since it’s spread through intimate contact, vaccination is most effective if it’s completed before a child becomes sexually active.