Annual report card: cervical cancer screenings drop, some blame HPV vaccine

HPV vaccine could be to blame for misinformation and failure to get annual pap smears, says report.

The National Partnership for Women and Families has released the annual report card that confirms what many have feared when it comes to Women’s Health issues in the United States. Each year, a combination of Women’s Health organizations releases a report card  grading individual states on how well they achieve the goals set by the Department of Health and Human Services, including the healthy people 2010 initiative.  This may not seem like a very important issue, but the results of these reports, shows us what state are lacking in healthcare–and overall the rates were disappointing with 37 states receiving “unsatisfactory” ratings.

Of special focus in this women’s report is the drop in cervical cancer screening rates. According to the report card, 78% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 presented within the last three years for a Pap smear. In 2007, analysis showed a 84.8% rate of screening. The goal for healthy people 2010 in relation to cervical cancer screening was 90%.

According to the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, there is not one clear indicator why the  numbers have dropped. Some believe the numbers are a direct reflection of the loss of health care coverage or confusion over perceived changes in screening guidelines specifically for women who have received human papilloma virus vaccine. While there have been no changes to the screening schedule for those vaccinated against HPV many believe that screenings are no longer necessary.

A consistent lack of education regarding the vaccine has many young women and their parents believing that the vaccine completely protects them from the HPV virus. They believe, that because they have been vaccinated, they no longer have any risk of developing cervical cancer. And for this reason no longer make their annual visit to their gynecologist for proper screening.

Proper education surrounding HPV vaccine has been less than adequate. There has been great debate surrounding the issue and while many young ladies misunderstand the use of the vaccine, they continue to engage in risky sexual behaviors, believing that they are protected permanently. The question has been raised since the introduction of the Gardasil vaccine to the United States market in 2006, as to whether or not it would serve as a gateway for unprotected or risky sexual behaviors in the age group that is already at risk.

The HPV vaccine has served as a doorway for parents and girls to discuss sexual behavior and practices early. However, it has also served as a major barrier for the same reason.  Parents are reluctant to discuss sexually transmitted diseases and may find the conversation difficult with some of the youngest candidates for the vaccine which could be as early as nine years of age. They simply don’t want to go there.

Sales of the Gardasil vaccine in the United States have dropped dramatically over the last several years. With only about 23% of all young women leading the series of three shots. Barriers to vaccination have included the high cost, extreme side effects and a general lack of knowledge regarding the vaccine. Conflicting evidence about administration, and changing age ranges for the vaccine leaves many parents feeling uncertain about its use, and therefore opt not to have their daughters vaccinated.

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