Just 35 percent of girls 13 to 17 have received a full course of the vaccine, which inoculates against the strains of human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer, according to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a study in Pediatrics this month, also based on C.D.C. data, says the intent to vaccinate is declining: 44 percent of parents in 2010 said they did not intend to vaccinate, up from 40 percent in 2008.
Alarmed by the stubbornly low rates, doctors and federal health officials are brainstorming about how to get more children vaccinated.
"Behind these numbers are people who will develop cervical cancer that could have been prevented," said Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office at the Department of Health and Human Services. At a meeting in Washington last month, federal and local officials, doctors and other health workers explored ways to make the shots more accessible. Some suggested giving the first of the three doses required to complete the vaccine at a doctor's office and the other two at schools or pharmacies.
Others argued for a greater emphasis on cancer prevention, playing down the fact that the vaccine prevents a sexually transmitted disease. The STD link has put off many parents who are loath to talk about sex with their children.
Image: Girl getting a shot, via Shutterstock