Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

This Vaccine Has Been Wildly Successful

VACCINES HAVE SLASHED RATES OF HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS. Physicians began recommending the first vaccine for the remarkably common sexually transmitted HPV virus in 2006 in the United States.

The British introduced human papillomavirus (HPV) immunization in 2008, with routine vaccination offered to girls aged 12 to13 years with a catch-up program for females aged 14 to 18 years in 2008–10.

The jabs carry the potential of lowering certain cancers.

Did you know that the human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the USA? Of the over 150 virus types, about 40 spread via direct oral or genital contact.

Most individuals who have been sexually active will contract HPV at some point. That’s right, most of us will carry human papillomavirus at some point in our lives. Human papillomavirus quickly spreads through sexual contact.

HPV basics

We may conveniently divide HPV strains into two categories: Low-risk versus high-risk.

Low-risk HPV

This type of genital human papillomavirus strain doesn’t lead to symptoms. The HPV vanishes as your body develops immunity to the virus. While low-risk HPV is not associated with cancer, the virus can cause genital warts.

Some low-risk HPV strains can cause abnormalities of a woman’s cervix, but these types (unlike their high-risk counterparts) don’t become cancer.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

High-risk HPV

Unlike its low-risk counterpart, high-risk human papillomavirus can lead to troublesome changes (including cancer) in cervix cells. While there are more than a dozen strains of high-risk HPV, types 16 and 18 lead to most HPV-related cancers.

High-risk human papillomavirus can cause cancer of the following:

  • cervix, vagina, and vulva (women)
  • penis (men)
  • oropharynx (throat, back of the tongue, and tonsils)

HPV vaccination slashes infection rates

new study shows that the human papillomavirus vaccine has been extraordinarily effective, nearly eliminating the prevalence of the two most dangerous viral strains in young women by 2016.

Moreover, the vaccine didn’t just help the young women who got the HPV vaccine. The vaccinations led to herd immunity, with prevalence rates dropping among the unvaccinated as the virus could not circulate freely.

Look at these remarkable results:

Among women 18 to 26 years old, the prevalence of high-risk strains of HPV before the introduction of the vaccines was 15.2 percent. In the 2015 to 2016 period, this percentage declined to 3.3 percent among the unvaccinated and one percent among the vaccinated. By ten years, the rate dropped to zero for those at the younger vaccinated women.

We can do better. The vaccine is available for boys and girls in the United States from age nine through early adulthood. From 2015 to 2016, approximately 55 percent of women aged 18 to 20 had received a jab, 52 percent of those aged 21 to 23, and 50 percent of those aged 24 to 26.

While our vaccination rates are not yet optimal (with the researchers pointing to an 80 percent target), the results are quite encouraging. We may someday eliminate HPV infections. Today, I celebrate that cancer incidence rates have dropped substantially among those less than 25 years.Cervical Cancer Rates Have Dropped Among Young Women in the United StatesHuman papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection. Nearly all men and women in the United States…www.cdc.gov

One researcher notes that the reasons for not getting the vaccine are driven largely by unfounded safety concerns from parents. The United States has lower vaccination rates in the Midwest and Southeast. Not surprisingly, HPV-associated cancer incidence remains relatively high in those states.

Among states with the lowest vaccination rates are those in the Midwest and Southeast, and HPV-associated cancer incidence remains high in those states, Deshmukh said.

And no, there is no good evidence that the vaccination somehow serves as a license for more sexual activity. Can we catch Australia, which aims to eliminate cervical cancer by 2035? And what about the rest of the world, where cervix cancer is rising? Can we more equitably distribute vaccines?

One caveat: The great success of the vaccine has not yet eliminated the need for appropriate cervix cancer screening. Thank you for joining me in this look at the remarkable success of the HPV vaccine.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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