HPV Vaccination Rates are Rising Among American Teens

a mother and her teen daughter stand on a bridge overlooking greenery in a park

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that vaccination rates for human papilloma virus (HPV) are rising among teenagers in the US. In 2016, 60% of teens ages 13 – 17 received one or more doses of the HPV vaccine, an increase of 4 percentage points from 2015. The vaccine protects against HPV, which can cause several types of cancer. The report was published August 24, 2017 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

HPV vaccinations were introduced more than 10 years ago. At the end of 2016, the recommendation to give the vaccine as a series of 3 doses was changed to 2 doses for girls and boys who start the series before their 15th birthday. The CDC recommends children start the vaccine at age 11 or 12, but they can start as early as age 9. Teens and young adults who start getting the vaccine at age 15 or older still need 3 doses of the HPV vaccine. The vaccine can be given until age 26. Vaccination at older ages is less effective in lowering cancer risk.

The CDC looked at data from the 2016 National Immunization Survey for 20,475 teenagers ages 13 – 17 to estimate vaccination coverage in the US.

Debbie Saslow, PhD, senior director, HPV Related and Women’s Cancers at the American Cancer Society, said, "The report shows that more US parents than ever are getting the HPV vaccine for their kids to protect them against cancer-causing infections. While the trends are positive, there is still much work to do to ensure boys and girls across the US are completing the series."

Breaking down the numbers

The report shows that 43% of teens are up to date on all the recommended doses of the HPV vaccine for their age.

The HPV vaccine has been routinely recommended for girls since 2006, and for boys since 2011. Since then, the gap in vaccination rates between girls and boys has been narrowing. In 2016, 65% of girls and 56% of boys received the first dose of HPV vaccine, a gap of 9 percentage points. The gap was 18 percentage points in 2014 and 13 percentage points in 2015.

Vaccination rates vary among states and are lower in rural and less urban areas. States and cities that saw significant increases in vaccination rates among girls are Georgia, Maine, Montana, New York, New York City, and Philadelphia. States and cities that saw significant increases in vaccination rates among boys are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, El Paso, and Houston.

HPV vaccines protect against cancer

HPV is a common infection that doesn’t cause any health problems in most people. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cancer. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

The HPV vaccine used in the US since 2016 protects against 6 cancer-causing types of HPV and 2 types that cause most genital warts. The 6 types cause about 90% of HPV cancers.

The vaccines work best if they are given before an infection occurs. This is why it’s recommended for girls and boys ages 11 to 12 – because the vaccines produce the strongest immune response at this age. This is also an age when children still will be seeing their doctor regularly and getting other vaccinations.

Health care providers are key

The report encourages health care providers to protect young people from HPV and HPV-related cancers, and says they can increase HPV vaccination rates by taking the following actions:

  • Use medical visits to review adolescents’ vaccination histories
  • Strongly recommend childhood HPV vaccination to parents and guardians
  • Give the vaccination to 11- and 12-year-olds at the same time as they get other vaccinations
  • Use reminder tools to help both providers and patients avoid missing opportunities to vaccinate

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National, Regional, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13-17 Years – United States, 2016. Published August 24, 2017 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. First author Tanja Y. Walker, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

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