UMMS faculty stress need for HPV vaccinations

By Bryan Goodchild and Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

January 23, 2013

Vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV) prevents certain types of cancer, yet families across the United States are largely missing the opportunity to inoculate their children, prompting two UMass Medical School faculty members to actively educate the public on the safety and efficacy of the shots.

“Our goal would be to have all of our adolescent patients vaccinated starting at age 11 or 12,” said Erin Barlow, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics. “Unfortunately in this country, the rates of vaccination in our populations are very low. I think one of the most important barriers to getting more people vaccinated is that, in general, people just need more education.”

Anne Powell, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, said HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and the virus can go on to develop into cervical and other types of cancer. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that all boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 receive the three-shot HPV vaccination series.

“When I explain this to parents, a common question I get is, ‘Why do I need to give my child a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease at such a young age?’” Dr. Powell said. “The reason for this has several factors. First, our goal is to immunize our population well before they become sexually active. Second, antibody responses to the vaccine are actually highest at this young age so it’s really in our children’s best interest to get this vaccine delivered at this relatively young age.”

Currently, about 30 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 in the United States have been fully vaccinated against HPV. Rates for boys are much lower.

Hear Drs. Barlow and Powell explain more about HPV in this Expert’s Corner video.