Since its introduction in 2006, a vaccine against the human papillomavirus has reduced the number of infections among teenage girls by 56 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that the rate of infection dropped from 11.5 percent to 5.1 percent.
“These are striking results,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. “I think they should be a wake-up call that we need to increase vaccination rates…The bottom line is this: It is possible to protect the next generation from cancer, and we need to do it.”
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts, cervical cancer and throat cancer. Two strains — 16 and 18 — are linked to 70 percent of cervical cancer, as well as other types of cancer, while strains 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts.
Cervarix provides protection from strains 16 and 18, and is approved for women between 10 and 25, while Gardasil provides protection against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. It’s approved for men and women between 9 and 26.
The New York Times reports only about a third of teenage girls have been vaccinated with the full vaccination course (three doses). Forty-nine percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 had received at least one dose.
With such a low vaccination rate, health officials have surmised that herd immunity or unexpected effectiveness of partial dosages may have led to the sharp decline.
Dr. Frieden says if the vaccination rate were 80 percent, 50,000 cases of cervical cancer among girls alive today could be prevented.
USA Today reports, “About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. Each year, about 14 million people become newly infected. About 19,000 women in the United States get cancer caused by HPV each year, cervical cancer being the most common.
“Men can also get cancer from HPV. Each year about 8,000 men get these cancers, mostly in the throat. The CDC began recommending in 2011 that boys over 11 also get the vaccine.”
The most common side effect of the HPV vaccine is fainting, which is a side effect for any vaccine, according to CBSNews.com.
The LA Times reports that further research shows sexual activity rates of girls aged 12 to 19 has not increased since the vaccine’s introduction.
The CDC’s study was published in the June issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.