Texas is rapidly falling behind the rest of the country in vaccinating young people against human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a report released this week by The University of Texas System Office of Heath Affairs.
The report, based on recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows a widening gap between the Texas and the U.S. rates for adolescents who have received at least one dose of HPV vaccine.
The vaccine protects against seven strains of HPV that can cause genital warts and several cancers, including cervical, throat, and penile. It is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls and boys, though older teens and young adults can get immunized, too.
In 2013, there was only a 0.5-percentage-point difference between the national rate of 34.6 percent and the state rate of 34.1 percent for young Texas males. By 2016, that gap had widened to 11.7 points: 56 percent nationally, and 44.3 percent in Texas.
For females in 2013, there was only a 1.1-percentage point difference between the national rate of 57.3 percent and state rate of 56.2 percent. But by 2016, the national rate was 65.1 percent, while Texas’ rate was 54.5 percent, a 10.6-point gap.
"I'm struck that we have fallen behind [in recent years], and the gap continues to widen between us and other states," said David Lakey, MD, UT System vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer.
Four other states — Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming — have lower HPV vaccination rates, according to the report.
The report also found that HPV vaccination rates vary greatly in different regions of the state.
In El Paso County, for instance, the 2016 estimate for up-to-date vaccinations was 66 percent, which is higher than every other state except Rhode Island. Meanwhile, in Dallas County, the rate was 23.9 percent, lower than every other state and the District of Columbia.
Dr. Lakey, who is chair of TMA’s Council on Science and Public Health, says several factors pushed up the El Paso rate. The region has a high Hispanic population, which as a group is more accepting of vaccinations, Dr. Lakey says. But he says the biggest factor has been a concerted push to vaccinate young people by the region's medical community.
"They are making it more of a routine," Dr. Lakey said. "For pediatricians — and other doctors — when kids come in, they don't have that separate conversation that makes the HPV vaccine sound unusual or scary. It is considered as a regular vaccine that you're going to get in the adolescent visits."
Dr. Lakey says Texans are accepting of vaccines overall, but misinformation about the HPV vaccine has caused people to shy away from it. The UT System study points out that there is a 36-percentage gap between the number of young people who get the regular Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, and those who receive the HPV vaccine.
Dr. Lakey says physicians have to take the lead in educating the public.
"I think physicians need to understand their leadership role, both in the community and with their patients to recommend the vaccine," he said.
More information on HPV and vaccinations can be found at the TMA's HPV Resource Center.
Action, Dec. 1, 2017