Feb 22, 2022 - Politics

Texas HPV vaccinations on the rise

Percentage of 13- to 17-year-old Texans who have completed HPV immunizations
Data: Texas Department of State Health Services; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among Texas teens have jumped more than 66% since 2015, according to state health data.

Why it matters: The vaccine is highly effective at protecting against cervical cancer caused by HPV, and while the latest figures are a promising sign, the HPV vaccine remains underused.

  • Plus, anti-vaccine movements have targeted the effective and heavily researched shot series.

The big picture: HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affecting more than 42 million people, according to the CDC.

  • But that number is likely higher.
  • Most people don't know they have HPV until they're diagnosed with a related cancer, get an abnormal Pap test result or develop genital warts.

Zoom in: Nearly 55% of Texas teens, ages 13-17, had completed an HPV vaccine series in 2020, an increase of nearly 7 percentage points from the previous year.

Of note: Young women tend to have higher HPV vaccination rates, per state data.

  • In 2020, 57% of girls were up-to-date with HPV vaccination compared to 52.9% of boys.

Between the lines: Vaccines against HPV were introduced in the U.S. in 2006 and were initially only recommended for girls and young women. Guidelines now include all preteens, including boys and some adults as old as 45.

  • Limited knowledge or misperceptions about HPV and the vaccine have been longtime obstacles in protecting more people.

Texas faces one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country, according to 2018 data from the CDC, the latest available.

  • The age adjusted rate of new cervical cancer cases in the state was 9.2 per 100,000 women.
  • Women in just six other states — Louisiana, Kansas, West Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas and Oklahoma — were more likely to develop cervical cancer.

​​Flashback: Then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2007 issued an executive order mandating the HPV vaccine for all girls entering sixth grade.

  • The vaccine, from pharmaceutical giant Merck, would have protected against the forms of HPV that cause about 70% of all cervical cancer.
  • But after news broke that Perry's former chief of staff was a Merck lobbyist and accusations flew that the governor was usurping parental rights and that the vaccine would lead to promiscuity, the legislature overturned the order.
  • At the time, Perry accused lawmakers of endangering the lives women, but in a GOP primary presidential run in 2011 he called his earlier position "a mistake."

Zoom out: National vaccination rates have rapidly increased since 2011 from around 30%, coinciding with a drastic decline in HPV infections, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The bottom line: Getting vaxxed is covered by most insurance plans as a preventative service that's free of charge, with no copay.

  • Government health programs or assistance from the vaccine's manufacturer generally make it available for free, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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