Report: Stigma, sexual squeamishness means parents still aren't vaccinating kids against HPV

"If we could get physicians to give a strong message about HPV vaccination ... we could make a real difference"

By Katie McDonough

Published February 11, 2014 2:49PM (EST)

              (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
(AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The HPV vaccine has been available for close to a decade, but despite repeat studies indicating that it is a safe and effective way to prevent cervical and other cancers, parents still aren't getting their children vaccinated.

According to a report from the President's Cancer Panel, only one-third of girls between the ages 13 and 15 have received the full three recommended doses of the vaccine; less than 7 percent of boys have received the full vaccine. In order to raise the rate, the report recommends more education for physicians and parents, and that pharmacists be empowered to administer the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that raising the vaccination rate among teen girls could prevent 53,000 cases of cervical cancer.

"Our children deserve this protection," Barbara Rimer, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the panel's chairperson, told USA Today.

But the problem is that stigma around the vaccine (namely, parental squeamishness that falsely links the vaccine to sexual activity) and physicians' reluctance (likely informed by this sexual stigma) to include the HPV vaccine with other routine vaccinations for other preventable diseases are keeping the vaccination rate dangerously low.

"If we could get physicians to give a strong message about HPV vaccination to every child, we could make a real difference," Rimer said. "The conversation needs to be framed around cancer prevention, not about sex."

More here.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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