Requiring children to get vaccinated against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) has been a controversial issue among parents and politicians. As such, a new study suggests that most parents would only be in favour of mandatory vaccination if they were provided with an opt-out option.
HPV has been implicated in multiple cases of cervical cancer, along with a number of other types of the disease. There are currently two vaccines available – Merck’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix – which protect against the most common strains of the virus.
Merck’s Gardasil protects against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18, While GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix only protects against types 16 and 18. These strains are responsible for approximately 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and numerous other types of anal, vulvar, vaginal and penile cancer.
Gardasil brought in almost $2 billion in sales in 2015, making it one of Merck’s best-selling drugs. Despite its high sales numbers, the vaccine has faced considerable pushback from religious groups.
The vaccines are mainly targeted toward adolescent girls, who could be protected against HPV infection before they become sexually active. In 2014, about 40 percent of young girls in the US were given all three doses of the HPV vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The number of girls vaccinated that year was up from 38 percent in 2013. More young boys are also receiving the HPV vaccine, with 22 percent being vaccinated in 2014 compared to only 13 percent in 2013. Of course, more children would be vaccinated if the shot were required by law.
To assess the popularity of this idea, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a national study involving 1,501 parents. They found that 21 percent of parents with children aged 11 to 17 were in favour of a law requiring HPV vaccination. Interestingly, if an opt-out option was included, 57 percent of parents thought the law would be a good idea.
“School entry requirements are highly acceptable to parents, but only when implemented in a way that makes them ineffective,” said study author Noel T. Brewer, Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina. “Opt-outs lead to a large number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, and that makes requirements ineffective in raising vaccination rates.”