Could many physicians actually be lukewarm about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and are not recommending it actively to patients?

A new study by a team from Harvard Medical School believed so in its findings, which may be rooted in some doctor’s discomfort in discussing sexually transmitted infections or thoughts that parents don’t find the vaccine important.

Published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the study found that 27 percent of doctors across the United States did not strongly endorse getting the HPV vaccine, while 26 and 39 percent did not offer timely recommendations for vaccinating girls and boys.

Around 59 percent recommended the vaccine more frequently for adolescents perceived to be high-risk versus routinely for everyone in the age group.

Study author Dr. Melissa Gilkey, assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said they were surprised with the recommendation practices that surfaced in their research, which involved 776 physicians.

“Of the five communication practices we assessed, about half of physicians reported two or more practices that likely discourage timely HPV vaccination,” she disclosed, adding that plenty of opportunities are missed in protecting the youth from future HPV-rooted cancers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all adolescents ages 11 to 12 as it is most effective prior to engaging in sex. And doctors have “a lot of influence” on whether parents will decide to get the vaccine for their kids, according to Gilkey.

Forty-four percent of doctors, too, did not recommend same-day vaccinations, which the authors said are a better suggestion than doing it at a later date.

The quality of recommendation, too, was deemed lower among doctors who were not comfortable with discussing sexually transmitted disease, or who thought parents considered the vaccine unimportant.

Jennifer Edman, Oregon Health & Science University assistant professor of women’s primary care, said that the vaccine should not be about sex, but rather about routine prevention of the Big C.

She warned about the “trap of negotiating” with the teen or parent, and that the vaccine can seem optional or less important.

HPV infections cause nearly all cervical cancer cases but can also lead to vaginal, anal, penile, or head and neck cancers. Most HPV infection strains clear on their own, but the strains pinpointed for about 90 percent of HPV-related cancers are aimed to be prevented through the three-dose vaccine.

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