November 30, 2005
A recent nationwide study found nearly 75 percent of 513 pediatricians surveyed said they would recommend a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, if approved, to children ages 9-17. While 70 percent of pediatricians expect safety concerns to factor into the decision, more than 40 percent thought parents would be reluctant to discuss sexuality and STDs with their children, and more than half anticipate some parents would resist any STD vaccine.
The study was conducted by Cincinnati Children's Hospital researchers. Among other findings, about 42 percent of pediatricians expect parents to worry that consenting to the immunization could lead to riskier sexual behavior.
Vaccines to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts are expected in the U.S. market sometime next year. Merck & Co. intends to file for Food and Drug Administration approval of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine tested on males and females ages 9-26. Once a vaccine is approved, CDC's vaccine advisory committee will be charged with issuing recommendations on who should get it. Vaccine developers and other experts generally agree the most effective strategy would be to vaccinate children prior to the onset of sexual activity.
In the United States, nearly half of new STD cases annually are acquired by teens, and one in two sexually active youths will contract an STD by age 25, according to the nonprofit American Social Health Association's 2005 report.
"There is a huge need to educate parents about the importance of the vaccine in protecting their children from harm," said Jessica Kahn, a Cincinnati pediatrician who conducted the survey. A recent study found almost half of women ages 15-19 were HPV-infected within three years of sexual debut, Kahn said. Even a teen who abstains before marriage may end up with a partner who is STD-exposed, she said.
The full report, "Pediatricians' Intention to Administer Human Papillomavirus Vaccine: The Role of Practice Characteristics, Knowledge, and Attitudes," was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2005;37(6):502-510).