A poll revealed that the majority of adults in the U.S. are in support of laws that allow teenagers to get medical care for sexually transmitted infections without parental consent. However, most parents wanted to have final say on whether or not their child is vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The National Poll on Children's Health, conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. surveyed a national sample of adults as to whether they would allow adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 years to be vaccinated against HPV without parental consent. They found that only 45% of responders replied they were in support of the state law.

Sarah Clark, M.P.H., Associate Director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan and Associate Director of the National Poll on Children's Health exclaimed: "But in contrast, 57 percent say they support teens being able to get medical care for prevention of sexually transmitted infections and 55 percent for treatment, all without parental consent." The HPV vaccine provides a short term protection against genital warts, one of the most frequent sexually transmitted infections and long term protection against the development of cervical cancer in females and some head and neck cancers in men. It is recommended that both males and females undergo a routine HPV vaccination at the age of 11-12 years, given that the vaccine is most effective when given before the onset of sexual activity.

Clark continues:

"That presents a challenge. Parents aren't thinking their 11 or 12 year-old child is ready for sexual activity at that age. Many parents ask to delay the vaccine until their child is a little older. But older teens go to the doctor much less than younger adolescents, and often they go without a parent."

To boost the number of people getting vaccinated against HPV, public health officials have considered calling for a law that requires no parental consent. Clark says: "But in this poll, most agreed they are reluctant to support dropping parental consent, even though 74 percent agreed that getting vaccines is a good way to protect adolescents from disease."

Those who reported they would not support vaccination without parental consent were asked for their reasons. The most frequent reason reported in 86% of respondents was that HPV vaccination should be the parent's decision, whilst 43% said it was because of the vaccine's side effects and 40% said they had moral or ethical concerns about the vaccination.

The investigators noted no difference between parents and non-parents with regard to supporting state laws that permit HPV vaccination without parental consent. Clark says: "These poll results show the majority of adults view HPV vaccination as distinct from sexually transmitted infection prevention and are reluctant to support taking away parental consent."

She concludes:

"Policymakers and public health officials interested in changing parental consent rules should consider this data and provide education to ensure adults understand the importance of HPV vaccination as a form of prevention against sexually transmitted infections."

Written by Petra Rattue