Why 44% of Parents Don't Get Their Kid a Vaccine That Can Prevent Cancer

If DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince taught us anything (that might apply to people complicit in the deaths of their children from cervical cancer), it's that sometimes "parents just don't understand."
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HPV-infected cells (euthman/flickr)

To the extent that science understands them, a few important things: 

Despite all that 75 percent of teenage girls in the U.S. were, as of 2010, not up to date on their HPV vaccinations. That number is highlighted in an analysis by Dr. Paul Darden and colleagues in Monday's edition of the journal Pediatrics

What's more, 44 percent of parents said they didn't plan to get their daughters vaccinated, which was up from 40 percent two years earlier. 

Darden concluded, "Despite doctors increasingly recommending adolescent vaccines, parents increasingly intend not to vaccinate female teens with [the] HPV [vaccine]." 

Amid the anti-vaccination mania by which historians may well define this era, the growing reluctance and some of its justifications uncovered by Darden were unique to the HPV vaccine. Here are the reasons given by parents in 2010:

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The 14 percent who answered "not sexually active" highlight the misconception that people who are not having sex don't need the vaccination. It's most effective when given before a person starts having sex. There's also the misconception here that parents actually know when their kids start having sex.

The 16.4 percent that cited safety concerns was striking, since the number tripled between 2008 and 2010. Unfortunately the subjects didn't expand on what those concerns were or what prompted the rise. 

And then, the "not needed/not necessary" responses ... see the mortality statistics above. 

In the U.K., a British National Health service program lets teenagers get the vaccine without parental consent. They have even incentivized it with shopping vouchers

In the U.S., only 45 percent of adults said they would be in favor of allowing teenagers to get vaccinated without parental consent. Though clearly sometimes parents just don't understand.


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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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