clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

More proof the HPV vaccine is working: infection rates in teenage girls dropped 64 percent

The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. But too many teenagers are still unvaccinated.
The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. But too many teenagers are still unvaccinated.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The HPV vaccine is doing its job: Far fewer teenagers have caught the sexually transmitted infection, which can cause cancer, than in the pre-vaccine era.

Rates of HPV among teenage girls dropped 64 percent after the vaccine was introduced, from 11.5 percent to 4.3 percent, according to a study released today that will be published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics. Infection dropped among women in their early 20s too, by 34 percent.

The problem is that although the vaccine is now recommended for all 11- and 12-year-olds, most kids — girls and boys — aren't getting the full three doses of the vaccine recommended for complete protection:

Just 40 percent of girls age 13 to 17, and 22 percent of boys, had received all three doses, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And only 60 percent of girls had received at least one dose.

That's in part due to persistent fears that giving the HPV vaccine will make kids more likely to experiment with sex. But there's no evidence that this is true.

The share of high school students who say they've had sex hasn't changed since 2001, before the vaccine was on the market, according to a biannual survey from the CDC. And the share who said they had sex before age 13 has continued to drop, from 6.6 percent in 2001 to 5.6 percent in 2013.

Nor does getting the shots make any difference. A study published in 2012 found that girls who'd received the shot were no more likely than girls who had not to get pregnant or seek birth control or treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, all signs of sexual activity. A similar study in Ontario also found the shot had no effect.

So not only is the vaccine effective, but fears about it are unfounded. It'd do even more good if more women were vaccinated.