Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common type of sexually transmitted infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people who contract the virus have no symptoms and the infection goes away on its own. For others, HPV can turn into cancer of the cervix, penis, anal or other forms of cancer.
If North Dakota, which had the second highest rate of HPV vaccinations in the United States in 2019, continues to promote the HPV vaccine and regular cancer screenings, it could one day eradicate cervical cancer. uterus in the state, said Molly Howell, the state’s immunization manager.
“We have the potential, through vaccination and preventive screening, to completely eliminate cancer, and it’s really exciting,” Howell said.
The North Dakota Department of Health recommends that young people get the HPV vaccine before the age of 13 for it to be most effective. The vaccine is given serially, with adolescents under 15 receiving two recommended doses and adolescents over 15 receiving three.
In 2019, nearly 90% of North Dakota teens aged 13 to 17 started the HPV vaccine series and 77% of teens in the same age group completed the series, according to the CDC. In contrast, the vaccination rate for the entire United States in the same year for teens starting the series was 72%, and only 54% of the nation’s teens completed the series.
The Department of Health attributes its high HPV vaccination rate to primary care providers who encourage parents to get their children vaccinated to prevent cancer.
“Our health care providers are very committed to this vaccine, its safety and effectiveness, so they strongly recommend that parents vaccinate their teenager against HPV,” Howell said.
Many young people in North Dakota get the HPV vaccine when they get the shot before they start grades 7 and 11 or during their annual high school physical exams, Howell said.
The HPV vaccine is not mandatory in the majority of states, including North Dakota, but at least three states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico, require the vaccine for students to attend school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The vaccine is not associated with increased sexual activity in adolescents who receive it, according to a study conducted by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health published in the journal Pediatrics.
Howell said the HPV vaccination rate has remained stable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even though fewer people have opted for routine check-up appointments.
The pandemic was at the forefront of the Ministry of Health’s messaging and outreach efforts recently, but it hopes to draw additional attention to eradicating cervical cancer and promoting HPV vaccination in a near future, said Howell.
Readers can contact Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a member of the Report for America Corps, at [email protected]