New Survey Data from Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health Shows Parents Need More Information about the HPV Vaccine

Forty Percent of Parents Surveyed Don’t Know the HPV Vaccine Can Prevent Cancer

Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University has released new data on parents’ understanding of HPV and the HPV vaccine, showing that parents need more information about the vaccine and why it is important to vaccinate their children for HPV.

Each year 14 million people become newly infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013 only 37.6 percent of girls and 13.9 percent of boys ages 13-17 got all three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. While HPV sometimes goes away on its own, it can persist and cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, or oral cancer in both women and men.

“Parents need to understand that the HPV vaccine can prevent cancer,” said Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This survey shows that 40 percent of parents are not aware that HPV can cause cancer or that the HPV vaccine can prevent cancer. Over half did not know that HPV can cause cancer in boys and men, as well as girls and women. As parents, we feel a responsibility to keep our children safe and healthy. The HPV vaccine is currently one of only two vaccines available capable of preventing certain types of cancer, so it’s important that parents make the decision to vaccinate.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and CLAFH surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,663 pairs of parents with children aged 9-21. The poll was conducted in July 2014 by GfK Custom Research, LLC on behalf of Planned Parenthood and CLAFH.

The survey data was released in a Yahoo Health feature story. "Vaccines are a hot-button topic right now—and there is so much fear surrounding them," says Michele Promaulayko, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Health. "We wanted to help educate parents about the potential benefits of the new HPV vaccine to empower them to make an informed decision."

The survey data shows that parents lack a basic understanding of HPV, of how HPV is transmitted, and that HPV can cause cancer in both men and women:

  • Three in ten (29.3 percent) parents reported not knowing if HPV can cause cervical cancer, or if the HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer (30.9 percent). (Another 10.2 percent and 9.3 percent of parents got the questions wrong, respectively.)
  • Nearly half (48.2 percent) of parents reported not knowing if HPV can cause cancer in boys and men. (Another 11.9 percent of parents got the question wrong, saying it couldn’t.)
  • About a third (33.5 percent) of parents reported not knowing if the vaccine is recommended for boys as well as girls, while almost a quarter (21.7 percent) mistakenly believe the vaccine is only recommended for girls.
  • Nearly a third (28.9 percent) of parents reported not knowing if you can get HPV from having sex.

The data also revealed that the lack of information regarding HPV and the vaccine is contributing to parents’ decisions about whether to vaccinate their children against HPV:

  • Three in ten (30.7 percent) of the children of the parents surveyed had gotten the vaccine. However, a similar proportion (29.8 percent), had not yet decided whether or not their child would get the vaccine.
  • When asked what their reasons were for not vaccinating their child, nearly a third (32.1 percent) said they did not know enough about the vaccine.
  • Of those who had not vaccinated their child, 70.7 percent listed safety concerns as their reason for not vaccinating and 34.2 percent said their child was not yet sexually active.
  • Of the children who did get the vaccine, many were not getting it early enough, with only 14.6 percent receiving the vaccine while aged 12 or under, when it is most effective.

“There is clearly a huge lack of public understanding,” said Kantor. “Despite being one of the most important public health advances in recent years, this survey shows that a substantial number of parents still don’t understand that children should be vaccinated years before they’re sexually active.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen incredibly harmful misinformation on vaccines in this country that have led to unnecessary worries for parents. The fact is that we have many studies showing that there is no link between the HPV vaccine and increased sexual activity, yet it continues to be an unfounded concern for some parents. The more accurate information parents have about the safety and benefits of the HPV vaccine, the better protected our children will be from HPV-related cancers."

“Parents should consider the HPV vaccine an important tool in their efforts to keep their children healthy,” said Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, RN, co-director of CLAFH. “Parents need more targeted education efforts on the benefits of the HPV vaccine for their adolescent children. We also need to encourage proactive communication between parents, adolescents, and healthcare providers about the benefits of HPV vaccination and sexual and reproductive health check-ups.”

As both a provider and an educator, Planned Parenthood sees firsthand the need to educate parents and teens about the HPV vaccine, and plays a key role in providing vaccinations. In 2011, HPV vaccination became a core service, and affiliates are required to provide it at least one health center. Today, the vast majority of Planned Parenthood health centers provide the HPV vaccine (more than 550 of approximately 700 health centers provide it), and in 2013, Planned Parenthood health centers provided the HPV vaccine to 35,000 people.As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood offers education programs for young people and parents across the country. In 2013, Planned Parenthood provided education and outreach to over 1.5 million people of all ages across the country, and every day, Planned Parenthood works in schools and communities to provide comprehensive sex education programs, which both parents and teens overwhelmingly support.


  • The HPV vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of HPV, is safe, and is supported by leading medical organizations.
  • Medical guidance recommends that both girls and boys get the vaccination when they are 11 to 12 years old because the vaccine works best when people receive it before they start having sex. However, even those who have had sex can benefit from the vaccine; it is recommended for anyone aged 9-26.
  • Nine years after the introduction of the HPV vaccine, research has shown that the HPV vaccine is highly effective in preventing HPV-related cancers and that we’ve made significant progress in curbing the spread of HPV.
  • The most recent data shows that HPV among teen girls has declined by 56 percent.
  • However, there are 14 million new cases of HPV in the U.S. each year and the CDC reports that only about one-third of U.S. girls ages 13 to 17 have received all three recommended doses.
  • The FDA has approved this vaccine and the CDC has recommended it for girls and boys aged 11-12. The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Planned Parenthood, support ensuring all young people get the HPV vaccine.
  • Research shows that the HPV vaccine keeps young people healthy and safe, and it can give parents an opportunity to talk with their kids about sex and sexual health. Despite the myths, young people who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to have sex than those who don’t.


Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.

The Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the NYU Silver School of Social Work investigates the role of parents in shaping the development and well-being of adolescents. Our research addresses key issues among Latino and other families and seeks to foster the development and evaluation of evidence-based interventions to prevent and reduce problem behaviors among youth.