HPV vaccine: Not just for young adults

RENO, Nev (KOLO) The HPV vaccine first came onto the market in 2006. Then, it was controversial, particularly among parents who didn't like the idea of giving their 11- or 12-year-old children a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted disease.

HPV vaccination rates have gone up. But it hasn't been as fast as many health care professionals would like. One pharmacist we talked to says in vaccination clinics she offers, the reasons haven't changed much.

“We've seen an actual decrease in the rates of vaccines for that age population that was originally indicated for in the 11- and 12-year-old, especially with our “Back to School” clinic we just recently did. A lot of parents did not want that for their children. They often associate that vaccine with sexual intercourse,” says Jennifer Wheeler, director of pharmacy at Community Health Alliance in Reno.

The vaccine protects men and women, girls and boys from nine of the more than 100 strains of HPV. The nine strains are the most common for causing certain kinds of cancers such as cervical, throat, and penile.

Not all adults are always exposed to the nine strains. That's why the Federal Drug Administration has now approved the HPV vaccine all the way to 45 years of age.

“Maybe at any time 40% of Americans are infected. Some people clear the virus on their own. Others who do not and have that increased risk of the disease and cancer HPV causes. And the vaccine is stipulated to be about 90% effective in preventing those cancers caused by HPV,” says Dr. Katherine McCarthy, Professor with UNR School of Medicine in the Family Medicine Department.

Dr. McCarthy says we don't know if the final guidelines will be a universal recommendation, or patient-specific.

What we do know is when those guidelines are drawn up and approved, the chance of insurance picking up the cost of this series of three vaccines will be greatly increased. That all could happen as soon as January 2019.