Feb 10, 2022 - News

Iowa's HPV vaccinations spike while infections tank

An illustration of a vaccine and a U.S. map.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among Iowa teens ages 13-15 have jumped more than fivefold in the last decade, according to state health data updated this week.

Why it matters: The vaccine protects against cancer caused by HPV.

  • The new data indicates that some of the longtime stigmas and barriers associated with the vaccine have faded.

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.

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.

By the numbers: National vaccination rates have rapidly increased since 2011 from around 30%, to just under 54% estimated in 2019.

Zoom in: Nearly 58% of Iowa teens under 15 had completed an HPV vaccine series in 2021, which is within 1 percentage point of matching a state record set the previous year.

  • Girls and boys were vaccinated at nearly the same rate.
  • Meanwhile, Polk County's rate reached its highest yet last year, at 65.1%.

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.
Data: Iowa Department of Public Health; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

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