Nursing & Healthcare News

HPV Vaccination and Schools

State policy changes could boost coverage

While we’re all waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, health officials are still trying to promote cancer-fighting HPV vaccination. A new study suggests that school-entry policies could be an effective way to increase HPV vaccination rates.

(Please note that even if your child is not returning to classroom learning this fall, it is important to continue with their vaccination schedule. Children are still at risk for preventable diseases and  some shots can’t be given after a certain age.)

Disappointing Coverage

Inoculating adolescents against human papillomavirus (HPV) — ideally while they’re still in middle school — dramatically reduces their risk of developing HPV-associated cancers (including cervical and rectal cancer) later in life. Unfortunately, vaccination coverage remains disappointing in much of the U.S.

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Even where providers recommend the HPV vaccine to parents, about 25 percent of families never begin the vaccination series (which requires several doses). For teens whose families don’t receive a provider recommendation, vaccination rates are lower still; 53.3 percent of those kids haven’t received even a single dose.

A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics looked at a new strategy for increasing coverage: adding HPV to the immunizations that states require for school entry.

State Policy Impact

The study found that both Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, which now mandate HPV vaccination for all students, had much higher rates than other states in their region. Ninety-one percent of Rhode Island teens and 89 percent of D.C. teens had received at least one dose. In nearby states with no mandate, the average was only 72 percent.

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Curiously, despite its state mandate, Virginia’s HPV vaccination rate remains lower than the regional average, at 68 percent. However, Virginia’s school-entry policies only require HPV vaccination for girls, not boys. (The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends HPV vaccination for all adolescents.)

HPV isn’t among the vaccines California currently requires for 7th grade entry, and our state’s HPV vaccination rates leave plenty of room for improvement. According to the most recent available data from the National Immunization Survey–Teen, only 71.5 percent of California teens 13–17 have received at least one dose of HPV vaccine. Just 52.6 percent have completed the full series.


Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse.


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