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Doctors May Unknowingly Discourage HPV Vaccine for Preteens

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The majority of physicians say that the HPV vaccine given to preteens, before they become sexually active, can help prevent infections with viruses that can cause cervical, penile and anal cancers as well as genital warts.

However, about 27 percent of doctors may inadvertently discourage parents from having their preteens vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new study, because they don’t recommend the vaccine strongly enough.

Pediatricians and family physicians deliver the bulk of HPV vaccines. Some of these physicians do not offer the vaccines as strongly as they do when urging parents to vaccinate against meningococcal disease or to get tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis booster shots, the study reported.

The study, which is based on a national online survey of 776 doctors, found a quarter did not strongly endorse the need for HPV vaccination with the parents of the 11- and 12-year-olds under their care.

Nearly 60 percent were more likely to recommend the vaccine for adolescents they thought were at higher risk of becoming infected — perhaps because the doctors knew or suspected they were sexually active — than for all 11- and 12-year-olds.

“You kind of get the sense that some [health care] providers see this as a somewhat uncomfortable situation,” said lead author Melissa Gilkey, a behavioral scientist in the department of population medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Many parents don’t like to think about the possibility of their child having sex, particularly when they are only 11 or 12 years old. The vaccine is actually meant to provide protection for when they are older. That’s why it is recommended before a child typically begins engaging in sexual activity. Studies have also shown preteens get the best immune response to the vaccines.

Evidence generated by one of Gilkey’s earlier studies suggests it’s not necessarily parents that are squeamish about the vaccination, but physicians that overestimate a parent’s response when the vaccination is urged. 

 “It’s not necessarily that physicians always are negative about it. But it’s kind of that HPV vaccine may get damned with faint praise, if you will,” Gilkey said. “Compared to the way that they recommend these other vaccines, parents may suspect that there’s something wrong with it.”

The aim of the research is to help figure out why HPV vaccination rates remain disappointingly low. The CDC reported that in 2014, 40 percent of adolescent girls and 22 percent of adolescent boys had received the recommended three doses of HPV vaccine. The agency says girls and boys should have all three doses by their 13th birthday.

According to the study, how the information is presented has an impact on how well it is received. Doctors who started conversations about the HPV vaccination by telling parents the vaccines protect against cancers and genital warts gave stronger recommendations than those who opened saying HPV viruses are sexually transmitted.

The study was published Thursday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Although Gilkey declared no conflicts of interest, the senior author of the study, Noel Brewer of the University of North Carolina, has received research funding and speaker fees from companies that sell HPV vaccines.

Source: Helen Branswell, https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2015/10/21/study-says-doctors-inadvertently-discourage-hpv-vaccines/LuJaMFoEupeOeYrrUOlYRN/story.html

 

 

 

 

 

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