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Survey: Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Lukewarm Reception Despite MN Approval

November 18, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The vaccine to immunize young women against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, has not received the warm welcome public health advocates had hoped for. Instead, it has become a point of controversy in some families. Some parents contend it will allow girls to be promiscuous, under the mistaken illusion that a vaccination will protect them from all sexually-transmitted diseases.

A University of Minnesota survey shows less than half (48 percent) of parents who share this view support the use of the vaccine. Overall, however, 87 percent of Minnesotans surveyed support the vaccine use. The survey findings were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Brigid Riley, executive director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPP) says many parents know the HPV vaccine is good protection, yet few girls have received it.

"Only about 25 percent of adolescents are currently getting that vaccine; it's been a little slow uptake. You know, if this was H1N1, we know how many people are out there are trying to get a vaccine for that."

Riley says some have concerns about the HPV vaccine's cost; others, about whether it will be readily available. Both views may have contributed to its lack of overall popularity. However, she adds, cervical cancer kills 4,000 women a year in the United States.

Recently, a federal advisory group announced the vaccine may also be given to young men to protect them from genital warts. Riley says MOAPP strongly supports boys being vaccinated as well, as part of regular adolescent patient care.

"As a public health advocate, I really believe that this is a very important vaccine that can prevent one form of cancer, so it's certainly something that we believe parents should be investigating."

Riley says health care providers and parents play important roles in HPV vaccine adoption. She acknowledges that parents need a lot of information to make educated decisions for their teens, and says their family physician's office is a good place to start.

The study can be seen online at www.jahonline.org.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN