Benefits of HPV vaccine outweigh risks and costs, say OB-GYNs and pediatricians

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 23, 2018

Key Takeaways

Nearly all obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYNs) and pediatricians agree that the benefits of vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) outweigh the risks and costs, according to a recent survey.

Conducted in November 2017 by M3 Global Research, the survey included responses from 51 OB/GYNs and 50 pediatricians in the United States.

Participants were asked whether the benefits of HPV vaccination in women ages 10 to 29 outweighed the risks—98% of both OB/GYNs and pediatricians agreed that it does. Only one OB/GYN said that the risks outweigh the benefits, and one pediatrician was undecided.

Similarly, 98% of OB/GYNs and 94% of pediatricians agreed that the benefits of HPV vaccination exceeded the costs in that same population group. One OB/GYN said they don’t, and three pediatricians were unsure.

Fighting HPV prevalence

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. About 14 million new genital HPV infections occur each year, including those in an estimated 6.9 million adolescents and young adults.

The virus causes most cervical and many oral, anal, vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers—totaling about 31,500 new cancer cases each year, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 91% of sexually active men and nearly 85% of sexually active women will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, CDC researchers projected.

As many as 42.5% of adults aged 18-59 years had some type of genital HPV between 2013 and 2014, with a higher prevalence in men (45.2%) than in women (39.9%), the CDC reported. During the same period, high-risk HPV occurred in more than 1 in 5 adults (22.7%), with a prevalence of 25.1% in men and 20.4% in women.

The prevalence of high-risk oral HPV is 4% in the same adult population; however, high-risk oral HPV is significantly more prevalent in men (6.8%) than in women (1.2%).

Much room for improvement

The CDC recommends the vaccine be administered at ages 11 to 12 to both girls and boys. Since 2006, when the vaccine became available, the prevalence of high-risk HPV types decreased by 64% in girls ages 14 to 19 and 34% in women ages 20 to 24 years, a 2016 study found.

Despite such reductions, only 42% of adolescent girls and 28% of boys have received all 3 doses of the recommended HPV vaccine series, the CDC reported in 2016.

When participants in the MDLinx survey were asked to name their most important reason for recommending the HPV vaccine in males, 73% of OB/GYNs and 58% of pediatricians reported they wanted to prevent male-to-female HPV transmission. Fewer physicians—24% of OB/GYNs and 38% of pediatricians—said they wanted to prevent HPV diseases in men.

“It is possible to do much better at protecting our nation’s youth from cancers caused by HPV infections,” said Assistant Surgeon General Anne Schuchat, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We are missing crucial opportunities to protect the next generation from cancers caused by HPV.”

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