Preventing Infection: An Update on the HPV Vaccine

It’s been 10 years since the introduction of the HPV vaccine (human papillomavirus) in 2006.

A lot has happened since then, including a new study confirming how highly effective the HPV vaccine is. Because of that, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide parents with an update. I previously wrote what parents need to know about the HPV vaccine, which is also an important read.

HPV is an extremely contagious sexually transmitted infection that infects the vast majority of men and women in the U.S. There are different types of HPV: some can cause genital, anal, throat and mouth cancers. Others can cause genital warts. Both men and women are affected by cancers and warts caused by HPV.

4 Updates on the HPV Vaccine:

 

1. Our study has proven the HPV vaccine’s effectiveness in the community

We wanted to understand whether HPV vaccine introduction in our community has led to lower rates of infection. So we recruited nearly 1,200 women ages 13 to 26 to participate in a study. We collected three waves of data: before vaccine introduction, and then 3-4 and 7-8 years later.

We found that infection with the HPV types targeted by the vaccine were more than 90% lower for vaccinated women recruited during the third wave, compared to all women in the first wave (who were unvaccinated).

This suggests that vaccine introduction has been highly effective in decreasing HPV infection rates in our community. We also found that HPV infection rates were 30% lower for unvaccinated women recruited during the third wave, compared to unvaccinated women before the introduction of the vaccine. This suggests that even unvaccinated women benefit from vaccine introduction because of herd immunity. Or, being less likely to get an infection because others in the community have received the vaccine. 

2. The benefits of the HPV vaccine have only just begun

It can take years or even decades for cancers to develop after an HPV infection. With the decline in infections, we expect rates of cancers caused by HPV to decrease dramatically in the future.

3. The 9-valent vaccine is now available, which is even more effective

The 4-valent vaccine was given in our community during this study, but now a 9-valent vaccine is available. This new vaccine protects even better against HPV-related cancers. For example, the 9-valent vaccine is expected to prevent about 90% of cervical cancers. And the 4-valent vaccine was expected to prevent about 70% of cervical cancers.

4. Vaccination rates have increased, but there is much room for improvement

Vaccination rates in the United States are only about 60% in girls and 42% in boys. This means that many young men and women are missing the opportunity to be protected from genital and oral cancers later in their lives. It is very important to make sure boys and girls are vaccinated at the recommended age of 11-12 years, and receive all the recommended doses (2 or 3, depending on their age). That way, they are protected from HPV infection before they are exposed to HPV through sexual contact.


I’m excited about the results of our research. The introduction of HPV vaccines – already shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials – has led to a dramatic decrease in the HPV types that cause cancer in our community. We will continue to study HPV rates in young women in our community, and are now also studying HPV rates in young men.

Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH

About the Author: Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH

Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, is a professor of pediatrics in Adolescent and Transition Medicine. Her research interests include the HPV and Pap tests in adolescent girls, HPV vaccines and cancer prevention behaviors in adolescents.

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