HPV vaccines going unused in South Dakotaby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
Health officials in South Dakota say efforts to vaccinate teenagers against a virus that causes cervical cancer are short of their goal. This year the vaccines are free for girls 11 through 18. Officials say two-thirds of the doses have been distributed so far, but they remain hopeful they'll reach their goal by the end of the year.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — South Dakota's Secretary of Health, Doneen Hollingsworth, is pleased with the results of the statewide vaccination program. She says the state targeted the 44,000 girls between the ages of 11 and 18.
"We built our assumptions on reaching a third of the population -- that a third of the population will take the vaccine. I believe we can get there," Hollingsworth says.
The human papilloma virus, or HPV, has several strains, a few of which are known to cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is 100 percent effective, but it's also controversial. That's because the HPV virus is a sexually-transmitted disease that can take decades to turn into cervical cancer.
According to Dr. Jodi Scott, an OB/GYN at the Avera Women's Health Institute, the vaccine should be mandatory. But Scott understands the controversy. Scott says the issue should be about preventing cancer, not whether a young girl is sexually active.
"If you don't want to talk with your 11-year-old about how you get that virus, I think that's reasonable. We don't talk with them about how they get the other viruses they're vaccinated for," Scott says.
Girls in this age range get most of their health care from a pediatrician or a family practitioner, and typically, those visits don't take up subjects like sexual activity.
That's a problem, according to Dr. Maria Bell, an OB/GYN specialist with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. Bell says pre-teen and teenage girls are also a tough population to reach.
"(That's) because they're done with their well-baby check and other vaccines, and so there's a period of time during adolescence where they don't go to the doctor unless they're sick. I think the only way to access those populations is through schools," says Bell.
But public schools don't typically hold vaccination clinics, because all vaccines in South Dakota require parental permission.
South Dakota is one of 11 states that adopted some kind of legislation regarding the HPV vaccine. Lawmakers set aside a one-time, $9 million fund to pay for the vaccinations. That means next year, parents will have to pay the $360 for a series of three shots.
In Minnesota, lawmakers tried to either fund or mandate the vaccine, but the measure died in committee.
- Morning Edition, 09/14/2007, 7:24 a.m.