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Here’s Why HPV Cancers Are Still Outpacing HPV Vaccination Rates

Rates of cancers associated with the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) have risen in the past 15 years. And while the HPV vaccination rate is also on the rise, inoculations simply isn’t keeping pace with HPV infection rates, according to two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Thursday.

Nearly 80 millions Americans are infected with some form of HPV. In 2015, more than 43,000 people developed an HPV-related cancer, compared with roughly 30,000 in 1999.

According to the new CDC reports, of all HPV-related cancers, throat cancer is now the most prevalent.

The HPV vaccine, released under the name Gardasil by Merck, was first made available to the U.S. public in mid-2006. By 2008, there were reports that one in four young women ages 13 to 17 were opting for at least the first in the series of three inoculations. Children ages 11 and 12 are recommended to receive two doses of the vaccine, and women and men ages 13 to 26 are recommended to get three doses, according to CDC guidelines.

HPV screenings, which have become increasingly common in the past decade, can also be used to detect the same cancerous abnormalities as a pap smear, according to a report earlier this week.

But it can take years for cancerous cells to develop and be detected, and a vaccination is one of the only ways to prevent the spread of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection. “This vaccine is the best way to protect our youth from developing cancers caused by HPV,” CDC director Robert Redfield said in a statement Thursday.

The CDC reports note that physicians serving a broad population may be less knowledgeable about adolescent inoculation schedules and therefore fail to recommend vaccinations to their patients. Additionally, the reports show that rural teens are less likely than urban adolescents to receive the vaccine, and that the inoculation rates in boys lags behind that in girls. A number of health care providers interviewed by The Washington Post emphasized that doctors must do a better job of informing patients about the existence of the vaccine, as well as its benefits.

This isn’t the first time low vaccination rates have shown to be impacting the vaccine’s effectiveness in the overall population. Due to low vaccination rates in the United States, back in 2016, the CDC announced a spike in HPV-related cancers, especially among men.