A controversial vaccine is drastically cutting the prevalence of a cancer-causing virus, but a lot of Americans still aren't taking it

It’s been surprisingly tough to get people to use a vaccine that protects against the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US.

But according to research published published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is working, and it’s suceeded in cutting the virus’ prevalence by a whopping 64% in teenagers since being introduced by the CDC in 2006. It’s also reduced the virus’ prevalence by an estimated 34% in 20-24-year-olds.

Human papillomavirus isn’t just the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, according to the CDC. It’s also responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

Using data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers compared the prevalence of HPV in a pre-vaccine era (2003-2006) to data from a post-vaccine time (2009-2012). They noticed that among teenagers (14-19) and young adults (20-24), there were significant drops in HPV prevalence. Other age groups didn’t have significant changes.

The first HPV vaccine was approved in 2006. Nine months later, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that all 11 and 12 year old girls receive the vaccine. It took until 2010 for the CDC to give the OK for 11-to 12-year-old boys to start receiving the vaccine as well.

“A minority of females in this country have been immunized, but we’re seeing a public health impact that is quite expansive,” Dr. Amy B. Middleman, who was not involved in the study and serves as the chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, told The New York Times.

According to CDC data, less than half of girls and even fewer boys had completed the three dose series of shots in 2013. Because the vaccine is for an STI, parents tend to worry that if their kids get the vaccine they will feel as if it’s acceptable to have sex. Others have expressed concerned over the safety of taking the vaccine.

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