More teenage girls are receiving the vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the government reported Thursday. However, the numbers still don't meet targets set by public health officials.
Last year's rise in HPV vaccine use follows a couple of years when vaccination rate was flat and health officials worried that it wouldn't budge. For girls ages 13 to 17, about 57 percent received at least one dose in 2013, up from 54 percent in 2012. Just 38 percent received all three doses as recommended, up from 33 percent the year before.
"It was better than nothing. But we really need to do better moving forward," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine protects against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted bug that can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and other illnesses.
A three-dose series of HPV shots was introduced in 2006. The government recommends the vaccine for girls ages 11 and 12 because it works best if given before they become sexually active.
Some have worried that taking a child for the vaccination implied green-lighting sexual activity. However, research is indicating that receiving the vaccine does not typically encourage sexual promiscuity. A survey of 300 girls between the ages of 13 to 21, published in February, found that it did not change their attitudes toward safe sex.
Health officials have tried to encourage doctors and parents to see it as just another disease-prevention measure for pre-adolescents, like the recommended shots against meningitis and whooping cough. It takes time for new vaccines to become widely used, but the HPV vaccine has lagged behind other shots.
Nationally, HPV vaccination rate increases were larger for boys. About 35 percent got at least one dose last year, up from 21 percent in 2012. The three-dose number doubled to 14 percent, from 7 percent.
The government only began recommending the vaccine for boys in 2011, and the increases mirror those seen in girls five years earlier. It's not clear if the trend will flatten out after the early rush, like it did for girls.
There was some good news in the latest report: Vaccination campaigns in Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and South Carolina paid off with increases last year of at least 12 percentage points for girls who got at least one dose, the CDC reported.
The CDC numbers come from a random phone survey of parents of about 18,000 adolescents, followed by a check of medical records. But many declined to be in the survey and it's possible that those who agreed to participate were more likely to embrace HPV vaccinations. That could make the actual HPV rates lower than the CDC report suggests, Schuchat said.