The number of people vaccinated against human papillomavirus in Monroe County has grown, though it’s still below the levels sought by government officials and vaccine advocates.
The increased vaccination rates come amid an effort by the New York state legislature to move forward a bill that would make immunization against HPV mandatory for children 11 years and older to attend school.
More than 4,000 people in the U.S. died from cervical cancer in 2016, according to the most recent data available from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
HPV can cause cervical cancer, which means that vaccinating against the virus can prevent many instances of the cancer, said Nancy Bennett, who directs the Center for Community Health and Prevention at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
The CDC recommends vaccination for children as young as 9 years old, and Bennett said the vaccine “works much better if it’s given at a young age.”
But as doctors and public health officials urged parents to have their children vaccinated, they’ve faced some backlash, she said.
“We had to admit at some point that this is a sexually transmitted disease,” said Bennett. “I think that some parents feel that their children don’t have to be vaccinated at a young age for a sexually transmitted disease.”
Still, HPV vaccination rates in Monroe County are higher than much of the state, Bennett said. “I think Monroe County physicians have been very aware of the value of vaccines for many, many years,” she said.
“Some of the earliest work on the HPV vaccine was done right here in Rochester,” she said. Researchers and the University of Rochester were awarded a patent on some of the technology behind the vaccine’s development almost a decade ago.
“It’s important to think of this as a cancer-prevention vaccine,” Bennett said. “It should be part of the routine vaccination process, here and across the country.”