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Worried Parents Balk At HPV Vaccine For Daughters

More parents are worried about getting their daughters vaccinated against cervical cancer, despite more doctors saying the shots are a good idea.

Over a three-year period ending in 2010, concerns about side effects more than tripled to 16 percent from about 5 percent among parents who didn't intend to get their teenage daughters vaccinated, according to a study just published online by the journal Pediatrics. The most common reason — cited by 17 percent of parents in 2010 — was that the vaccination wasn't needed or necessary.

That resistance rose even as the proportion of doctors recommending the vaccine rose to 52 percent in 2010 from 47 percent in 2008.

"The large and increasing proportion of parents who do not intend to immunize their adolescent daughters with HPV is troubling ..." the researchers wrote. The findings come from an analysis of federal database focused on teens.

Vaccines against human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer, have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for teenage girls since 2007. A little more than a third of eligible girls have been vaccinated against HPV, CDC data show.

The vaccines have a good safety record. "We have not identified a significant likelihood of serious adverse events following vaccine," pediatrician Joseph Bocchini told NPR back in 2011. "This is a very safe vaccine," said Bocchini, who is a member of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Many parents remain unconvinced. "There is a substantial concern about safety," says Dr. Abbey Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

She tells Shots that her own research using two databases that don't include the one in the Pediatrics study reflect the same trends. Parents frequently worry about risks. They also say they don't know enough about the vaccine or that their child doesn't need it anyway.

"All three of these could be addressed by education efforts," Berenson says.

While doctor recommendations have been shown to be highly correlated with people getting the vaccine, many people in the target age group (early teens) don't see a primary care provider during these years. That's particularly true for people in underserved communities.

"So the education efforts have to be more to the general public than just counting on individual physician-patient conversations and counseling," Berenson says.

Vaccination against HPV takes three shots over six months and costs around $400. The two brands of vaccine are Gardasil and Cervarix. The shots aren't always covered by insurers or government agencies. Common side effects include pain at the injection site, fever and fainting.

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