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April 28, 2021

DES MOINES, IA – Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates for adolescents (ages 10-13) in South Dakota are trending above the national average, according to new data External Link by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). While the overall rate of those receiving their initial HPV vaccination in South Dakota was 73 percent, the number of adolescents returning to complete the second HPV dose remains at just 49 percent. The national average for completed HPV doses is 29 percent.

"The HPV vaccine can safely prevent multiple cancers, yet less than half of South Dakota's adolescents are fully vaccinated," said Dr. Tim Gutshall, Wellmark's chief medical officer. "HPV can exist for years without symptoms and is a leading cause of cervical cancer in women and throat cancer in men. It is important for parents and caregivers to understand the benefits of this vaccine and the importance of following through with both doses to ensure the best protection."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, while certain throat cancer diagnoses are rising at unprecedented rates among both men and women. HPV is responsible for 70 to 90 percent of these cancers in the U.S. Two doses of the HPV vaccine are required for full immunity among this age group. The CDC recommends the vaccine for girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 13.

In 2015, the South Dakota Department of Health data showed only 32% of girls and 22% of boys ages 13 to 17 had completed the vaccination dosing regimen. The BCBSA data shows nearly 48 percent of girls completed the HPV vaccine in 2019, and 50 percent of boys were fully vaccinated. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to slow HPV vaccination rates in South Dakota similar to declines seen with other routine childhood vaccines.

Among parents whose children did not receive the HPV vaccine: 29 percent were unsure about the vaccine's effectiveness; 25 percent declined the vaccine because it wasn’t required; and 22 percent had concerns over side effects.

"The HPV vaccine can have a true impact on preventing cancers — but children need to be vaccinated early according to CDC guidance," said Dr. Gutshall. "Even as the pandemic persists, I continue to encourage parents to work with their primary care provider to stay on schedule or catch up with this, and other important vaccines."