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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 10:56 EDT

Only 1 In 3 Teenage Girls Received Gardasil Vaccine

September 18, 2009

A federal report released Thursday showed that one in three teenage girls have gotten a cervical cancer vaccine, but vaccination rates vary dramatically between states, The Associated Press reported.

It showed that over half of girls ages 13 through 17 in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts got at least one dose of the three-shot vaccination. Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina — with fewer than 20 percent who got at least one shot — were among the stated with the lowest rates of vaccination.

Merck’s Gardasil vaccine, which came on the market in 2006, targets strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers.

It is recommended that girls get the shots when they are 11 or 12, if possible, before they become sexually active so they have immunity before they are first infected. The shots are approved for females 9 through 26, health officials say.

Researchers consulted a 2008 telephone survey of the parents of nearly 18,000 adolescents that allowed researchers to check their kids’ vaccination records for the study, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A national increase in the percentage of teens ages 13 to 17 vaccinated against meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and other illnesses were noted. Also, it showed a rise since 2007 in the percentage of teenage girls who had gotten at least the first dose in the three-shot vaccination series.

Around 25 percent in 2007 had gotten a first dose of the vaccine, but it rose to about 37 percent in 2008.

The number of girls who got the whole three-dose series was only 18 percent and the rate was higher for white girls than for blacks or Hispanics, according to the CDC study.

Medical experts say the shots could dramatically reduce the nearly 4,000 cervical cancer deaths that occur each year in the United States, and vaccine proponents had been hoping for higher vaccination rates.

Dr. Melinda Wharton, an administrator of the CDC center that did the research, said it’s not clear why state vaccination rates vary so much, but several factors could be involved.

However, at $390 for the three-dose series, Gardasil is the most expensive childhood vaccine. And not all public insurance coverage will pay for the shots.

Some children, including those who are uninsured or are in state Medicaid programs, can get the shots for free under a federal program, yet many states have been slower to take advantage of it than others.

Additionally, three trips to the doctor is needed over six months to get all the shots, and some parents are unable or unwilling to get their children to the appointments.

Heather Brandt, a University of South Carolina public health researcher, said in South Carolina, many parents have said they are concerned about the safety of the vaccine or that they don’t understand why a girl should get vaccinated before she’s sexually active.

She said it was disturbing to see those states at the lower end of participation because those states have some of the highest rates of cervical cancer.

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