Just one-third of teen girls in the U.S. have received all three doses of the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to new research.
The study, presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, also showed that most people for whom the HPV vaccine is relevant (meaning someone between ages 9 and 27, or someone who has an immediate family member in that age range) are unaware of its effectiveness.
"This uncertainty may influence decision-making about getting vaccinated, and it hinders our ability to reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality and reduce disparities in cervical cancer," study researcher Kassandra I. Alcaraz, Ph.D., M.P.H., who is the director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society, said in a statement.
That is troubling considering HPV is known to cause cervical, anal and vulvar cancers. Both of the currently available vaccines -- Cervarix and Gardasil -- protect against cervical cancer; Gardasil also protects against genital warts and anal, vaginal and vulval cancers.
Right now, boys and girls ages 11 and 12 are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive the HPV vaccine, as well as young women up to age 26 and young men up to age 21 who did not receive the vaccine earlier in life. Girls can be vaccinated with either Cervarix or Gardasil, while boys can only be vaccinated with Gardasil.
For the new study, researchers analyzed data from 3,551 adults who were part of the Health Information National Trends Survey from 2012 to 2013; of all the people in the study, 1,417 were determined to be HPV vaccine-relevant. Just 33 percent of the teen girls have received all three doses of the vaccine, with black, Hispanic and low-income women being less likely than others to have received the vaccine.
Seventy percent of people in the study said they were unsure of how well the vaccine prevented cervical cancer, and just 25 percent said that they'd actually talked to a health care provider about the vaccine.
"Findings suggest HPV communication and messages need refinement to clearly highlight vaccine efficacy, and targeted strategies may be needed to reach non-Hispanic Blacks and individuals with lower levels of education," the study said.