If you have youngsters who have not been vaccinated, ask your doctor or nurse about it.
As a cancer survivor getting to participate in the Leavenworth County Relay for Life on May 30, I was appalled to learn that our state is dead last in acting to virtually eliminate the chances of contracting one type of cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said our state is the worst in the nation in assuring that adolescent girls receive at least one dose of the human papillomavirus vaccination. Kansas also ranks last, along with Utah, in ensuring our girls receive the full regimen.
We have come a long way in diagnosis and treatment of cancer, but it is still a deadly disease. One huge breakthrough is that all it takes is a few shots to virtually eliminate the chances of contracting cervical cancer. A three-dose regimen that experts say essentially prevents cervical cancer, a terrifying killer that is newly diagnosed in more than 12,000 American women a year and kills about 4,000 annually. The human papillomavirus causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
You might compare the HPV vaccinations to the polio vaccine, which virtually eliminated a virus that crippled and killed so many people when I was a child. Why then do vaccinations continue to lag far behind levels sought by the U.S. medical community? Health officials place the blame largely on parents’ and physicians’ reluctance to talk with adolescents about a sexually transmitted infection.
Now a concerted effort is under way to improve the HPV vaccination rate in Kansas, with partners that include the Kansas Foundation for Medical Care and the University of Kansas Cancer Center, which is making HPV outreach a key component of its effort to achieve enhanced recognition by the National Cancer Institute. The campaign will get a boost this week from Dr. Melinda Wharton, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, who’s scheduled to stop in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita for a three-day visit beginning Tuesday.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. According to the CDC, virtually all sexually active men and women contract it at some point in their lives. In most cases, it resolves on its own. However, when it persists, HPV can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer in men and women. It also can cause cancers in areas other than the cervix. In 2006, the U.S Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil as the first HPV vaccine. Three years later it approved another vaccine, Cervarix.
Better late than never in trying to bolster the HPV vaccination rate in Kansas, said Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center.
“It’s kind of like, when is the best time to plant a tree?” Jensen said. “Well, the best time to plant a tree was yesterday, or 10 years ago. But today is the second best time, so we need to get started on this if we have our eye on the future like it should be.”
To achieve maximum effect, physicians administer the three doses over the course of six months to adolescents before they become sexually active. Researchers don’t know how much protection is afforded by only one or two doses, according to the CDC. That’s why it says it’s important that both sexes get all three.
Either way, Kansas is not doing a very good job protecting our youth. For females between the ages of 13-17, about 57 percent nationwide receive at least one HPV vaccination; in Kansas, the figure is about 40 percent. Similarly, nearly 40 percent nationwide receive all three doses; in Kansas, the figure is 21 percent.
A study published this month by the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology, National Center for Health Statistics, found that passage of the Affordable Care Act, which extended health coverage to more young adults and erased copayments for certain preventive treatments, instigated an additional 1.1 million women aged 19-25 years receiving the three-dose HPV vaccine. The study says that two of the ACA's provisions may have encouraged this uptick, the extension of the age young adults remained eligible for coverage under their parents' healthcare plans and improved coverage of select preventive services.
Women of my generation and my daughters did not have the opportunity for this protection from cervical cancer.
HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for girls 11-12 years old. Doctors may give it to girls as young as 9 years old.
The HPV4 vaccine (the type recommended for prevention of genital warts in girls) may also be given in three doses to boys aged 9-26. The vaccine is also recommended for girls and women 13-26 years old who did not receive it when they were younger.
If you have youngsters who have not been vaccinated, ask your doctor or nurse about it. They can show you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information. Also, you can call the Leavenworth County Health Department at 913-250-2000. You can also contact the CDC at 800-232-4636 (800-CDC-INFO) or visit the CDC’s web site at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Marti Crow is a former Kansas state representative.