Research has shown that the human papillomavirus vaccine is extremely effective in preventing cervical cancer and other cancers.
Children are advised to get the vaccine at the age of 11-12 years, but the parents’ hesitation regarding the immunization is still despite its safety and effectiveness. Only 54% of American adolescents are fully vaccinated against HPV, a lower frequency than other vaccines given at this age, including meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
A new Yale study suggests that taking parental consent out of the equation and empowering teens to make their own decisions is one way to increase the HPV vaccination rate.
Eight states – including Delaware – and Washington, DC have passed laws allowing teens to get the HPV vaccine without a parent state. Some of the laws only allow young people to give consent to care regarding sexual health and reproduction. Others allow them to give consent to broader care.
The study found that HPV vaccination rates are higher in states with these consent laws, especially with the first dose of the vaccine. In these states, 67.9% of teens had received at least the first dose compared to 61.4% in states that do not allow adolescents to receive the vaccine without parental consent.
The researchers said their study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, does not prove that consent laws drive the higher vaccination rates. But they said it is a strategy worth considering.
“It’s definitely food for thought,” said Dr. Sangini Sheth, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at Yale. “I think it could lead to some very interesting political talks.”
Yet Yale researchers also found that there was less coherence between consent laws and the completion of the multidose vaccine series.
A possible explanation? Teens’ ability to make their own decisions makes the biggest difference when they begin the vaccine series, Sheth said. A stronger follow-up reminder system can increase the number of young people who are fully vaccinated.
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, HPV vaccines must be approved by parents. The other states that allow young people to make their own decisions are Alabama, Alaska, California, Idaho, New York, Oregon, and South Carolina.
One of the biggest driving forces behind these laws is parental hesitation regarding vaccinations.
Earlier this year, a study showed that nearly two-thirds of parents would probably not get their children vaccinated against HPV. Overall, hesitation with HPV vaccines fell from 69% in 2010 to 63% in 2019, but most of these gains were achieved in 2012.
Some parents believe the vaccine is unnecessary because their children are not sexually active, the study found. Not having enough information about the vaccine was another reason parents quoted for giving it up.
Nevertheless, studies continue to show that the vaccine is safe and effective. The Philadelphia Children’s Hospital reports that there has been no cause-and-effect relationship between HPV vaccines and adverse events such as blood clots, allergic reactions, strokes, seizures, Guillain-Barré syndrome, birth defects, abortions, infertility or premature ovarian failure or infants. / fetal death.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that young people receive the Tdap vaccine – which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis – and a meningitis vaccine that protects against four strains of meningococcal bacteria. For these vaccines, vaccination rates are much higher – almost 89% for meningitis and over 90% for Tdap.
Sheth said there is such a big difference in vaccination rates because the HPV vaccine is perceived differently.
“Whether parents think the HPV vaccine is something optional, that their children can wait and get it at a later date, or that it is not for all children – none of that is true,” she said. “And sometimes the HPV vaccine is not discussed at all.”
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. However, there are some experts who are concerned that these laws could divide families.
Dr. Cora Breuner, of Seattle Children’s Hospital, previously told NBC News that the better approach is to stress to parents the importance of the vaccine in protecting their children’s health. Breuner also serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ youth committee.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that has been associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, vulva, penis, anal and throat cancer. The virus is responsible for 70 to 90% of these cancers in the United States, reports the CDC.
The HPV vaccine should be administered as two doses to provide full immunity. Anyone receiving the first dose after their 15th birthday should receive three doses.
Although three HPV vaccines have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, only one – Gardasil 9 – has been available in the US since 2016. It has been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials involving more than 15,000 people, according to the CDC .