When it comes to vaccinating adolescents, Missouri ranks among the worst in the nation.
The report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation ranks Missouri 48th in the U.S. for overall adolescent vaccinations. Doctors say the pattern may be linked to a more widespread trend of “vaccine hesitancy” among parents in the U.S.
Compared to the rest of the U.S., a lower percentage of teenagers in Missouri received three common vaccinations: human papillomavirus, meningococcus and TDAP – which prevents tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
An estimated 45 percent of girls and 34 percent of boys in Missouri received the HPV vaccination last year, about ten percentage points lower than the national average.
Dawn Davis, assistant professor of family and community medicine at St. Louis University, said misinformation about vaccine safety continues to spread on social media.
But when it comes to vaccinations against sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV, parental discomfort can be an even bigger barrier.
“Frequently when you have that conversation, the parent looks at you like you’re insane, like, ‘My 10-year-old is not sexually active,’” said Davis. “I understand that, but eventually they will become sexually active, and we want to protect them prior to that.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinating children against HPV starting at age 9. The agency also provides federal assistance for families who cannot afford vaccinations through the Vaccines for Children program.
The main reason behind the push to vaccinate children against HPV is the fact that several strains of the virus cause cancer, including cervical cancer.
The CDC estimates about 90 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
“The HPV vaccination is a cancer-prevention vaccination,” Davis said. “That is the most important thing for parents of children to remember.”
An estimated 1 in 4 adults – or 80 million people – are infected with HPV in the U.S., with about 14 million new cases added each year.
Young women can still be vaccinated against HPV up to age 26, while men can receive the vaccination up to age 21.
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