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More Teens Getting HPV Vaccinations

mother watches as doctor vaccinates young teen boy

Editor’s Note: Guidelines on recommended ages to get the HPV vaccine are updated as scientific evidence continues to evolve. Please read the most recent vaccination recommendations here.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that almost half (49%) of teenagers have been fully vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), an increase of 5 percentage points from 2016. Almost 66% had received at least the first dose of the vaccine, also an increase of 5 percentage points from 2016. Results from the 2017 National Immunization Survey of teenagers ages 13-17 years were published August 24, 2018 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The HPV vaccination is recommended for children when they are 11 or 12, although it can be started as early as age 9 and can be given later for kids who need to catch up. The vaccination is a series of either 2 or 3 shots. It protects against certain types of HPV that can cause 6 different types of cancer, including cervical cancer and throat cancer, as well as genital warts.

The report showed that more teens living in urban areas received the vaccine compared with those living in rural areas. The number of teens in rural areas who received the first dose of the vaccine was 11 percentage points lower than those in urban areas. Authors of the report say this may be explained in part by a shortage of health care providers, especially pediatricians, in rural areas. Evidence has shown that a doctor’s recommendation is the most important factor in whether children receive the vaccine.

Another article published in the same issue of MMWR reports that throat cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer in the US. Between 1999 and 2015, rates of throat cancer increased in both men and women, but more in men. According to the report, about 43,000 men and women developed an HPV-associated cancer in 2015. Experts estimate HPV vaccination could prevent 90% of cancers caused by HPV every year.

Eliminating cancer

Debbie Saslow, PhD, senior director, HPV Related and Women’s Cancers at the American Cancer Society, says the increase in vaccination rates is a result of government agencies, researchers, cancer organizations, immunization groups, and other groups collaborating at the national, state, and local levels. “Not using a tool that can prevent 6 cancers is unacceptable,” she said.

Groups including the American Cancer Society have released statements outlining their commitment to eliminating cervical cancer through HPV vaccination and screening. “This is the first time we’ve seen a real possibility within a generation of eliminating a cancer,” said Saslow.


The American Cancer Society recommends that parents of boys and girls nearing their 11th birthday talk to their health care provider about the HPV vaccine. Getting children vaccinated before they are exposed to HPV is the best way to protect them from getting HPV-related cancer when they are adults.

The CDC encourages health care providers to recommend HPV vaccination in the same way and at the same time as they recommend other age-appropriate vaccinations including those that protect against flu, meningitis, and whooping cough.

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, 2017. Published August 24, 2018 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. First author Tanja Y. Walker, MPH, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

Trends in Human Papillomavirus–Associated Cancers — United States, 1999–2015. Published August 24, 2018 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. First author Elizabeth A. Van Dyne, MD, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.