A growing number of adolescents in Connecticut and nationwide are protecting themselves from human papillovirus (HPV), new data show, but disparities persist in who is getting vaccinated.
Statewide and nationally, adolescent girls were vaccinated at much higher rates than boys in 2015. In Connecticut, 55 percent of girls received all three doses of the vaccine, compared to 42 percent of boys, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Nationally, 42 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys received all three shots, the CDC data show.
Nationally, Hispanic girls (46 percent) and boys (35 percent) received all three doses, compared to African American girls (41 percent) and African American boys (26 percent), and white girls (40 percent) and white boys (25 percent), the CDC reports. Connecticut does not break down data by race.
The gender gap is huge, said Dr. Julia Cron, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine and Connecticut section chair of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“If you’re going to get rid of HPV in girls, you have to get rid of it in boys,” Cron said.
For some parents, the vaccine carries a stigma since it treats a sexually transmitted disease, said Dr. Nimrod Dayan, a pediatrician at Pediatric Healthcare Associates in Trumbull.
“HPV is a unique vaccine in that a lot of parents view it as not required,” he said. “Parents feel like they have the option to say ‘I don’t want it’ and [some] think that it will give their kids free rein to go ahead and have sex.”
Dayan said he explains to parents that if their child contracts HPV, it can lead to cancer. The CDC reports that HPV can cause cervical, vaginal, and penis cancers, among others.
“This is actually a cancer vaccine,” Dayan said. “When it’s framed like that, I seem to have better luck.”
HPV is spread through sexual contact, including skin-to-skin contact and intercourse.
The CDC recommends girls and boys be vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12, but females can be vaccinated up to age 26; for males, it is 21. Last week, the CDC changed its recommendation on the dosage from three shots to two shots at least six months apart for girls and boys 11 and 12.
“You really want to get these kids vaccinated before they’re sexually active,” Cron said, since the vaccine is more effective if administered before exposure to the disease.
The new recommendation to get just two vaccine doses should “definitely” increase the percentage of youths who get fully vaccinated, Cron said.
“Certainly, two (doctor) visits are better than three,” she said.
In both genders in the 2015 data, there was a drop in the percentage of females and males that received all three shots. The CDC found 71 percent of girls in Connecticut got the first dose last year, 64 percent got the second dose and 55 percent received the third. Among Connecticut boys, 65 percent got the first, 50 percent got the second and 42 percent got the third.
The drop-off could be due partly to logistics, Cron said, since healthy teens typically see their pediatricians only once a year.
Despite some disparities, the state’s 55 percent of females who received all three doses was higher than most states in New England. The exception was Rhode Island, where 68 percent of girls were fully vaccinated, the highest percentage in the country. That’s partly because the state requires all students entering seventh grade to be vaccinated.
“Connecticut’s actually doing pretty well,” Cron said. “But there’s certainly room for improvement.