American vaccine deniers got a lot of attention during the measles outbreak earlier this year, but there's another vaccine that's equally if not more important to promote: that which works against the human papillomavirus (HPV). A huge fraction of U.S. adults already have some form of HPV, and it's responsible for some 26,800 cases of cancer each year.
But as Dr. Aaron Carroll explains below, it would be quite easy to eradicate HPV. Simply vaccinate all children around the ages of 11-12 (before they become sexually active), and it would be gone in a few decades. But for a variety of reasons, it hasn't happened yet:
Sheer awkwardness about sex among policymakers and doctors, rather than crank theories about autism, are probably the biggest factor behind the halfhearted anti-HPV effort. But as Carroll points out, even the modest rate of vaccination attained so far has cut the rate of HPV infections among teenage girls by over half. Finish the job around the world, and HPV could be totally eradicated, just like smallpox before it.
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