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Less than half of the teenage girls in the country have been vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
New research shows that only 49% of teen girls have received even the first dose of the three part series, which is spread out over six months. That figure is significantly less than the teen immunization rates for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and meningococcal meningitis.
The CDC recommends that girls start the series when they are 11 or 12 - before they are sexually active. This is because the vaccine is only effective if it is given before a girl is first exposed to the virus.
So why are the numbers so low?
Although many parents are choosing to forgo vaccinations entirely for their children, that stance wouldn't account for the sizable gap in the percentage of girls who have received other vaccines, like tetanus, but not the one for HPV.
Experts think the lagging rate has to do with the sexual issues that surround the vaccination. Parents may not realize that their daughters need to get the vaccine BEFORE they're sexually active, or they may be uncomfortable discussing sex and sexuality at such a young age.
Whatever their reasons, parents need to understand that by not vaccinating against the infection, they are putting their children at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer down the road.
"If we don't do a much better job, we're leaving another generation vulnerable to cervical cancer later in life," said Dr. Melinda Wharton, from the CDC.
There are currently two vaccines on the market that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Gardasil and Cervarix.
Nearly 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and around 4,000 die from the disease. Nearly all (more than 99%) of cervical cancer is caused by the virus.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States; at least 50% of sexually active people will have genital HPV at some point in their lives. It often has no symptoms and can stay in a person's system for many years without them ever knowing they had been infected.
Has your daughter been vaccinated for HPV?
Consult your doctor to discuss the vaccine. For more information, visit the CDC's resource page at http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/