Well-off Pakeha parents less likely to get their daughters immunised against HPV

Parents of well-off Pakeha girls are less likely to get their daughters immunised against an STI because "white girls don't have sex", a Massey University PhD candidate believes.

Postgraduate researcher Karen Page, of the university's College of Health, is trying to establish why New Zealand's vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) are lower for Pakeha than other ethnicities, and also lower in high-decile schools than those in poorer communities.

Page believes that many parents think their daughters don't need it because they're not having sex.

"It's the 'white girls don't have sex [theory] so white girls don't need it'. That's what it's all about, I think," she told the Herald on Sunday.

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About half of New Zealand 15-year-olds were sexually active and, at some point in their lives, about 80 per cent of adults would get the sexually transmitted infection.

HPV causes almost all cervical cancer in this country and can cause genital warts, but most women who develop the virus clear it naturally.

The vaccine is offered free to girls when they are in Year 8 - aged 12 when it is most effective - but parental consent is required.

Data from the National Immunisation Register shows 71 per cent of Pacific Island Year 8 girls were vaccinated last year, 63 of Asian students, 62 per cent Maori and just 52 per cent of "other" students - a group comprised mostly of New Zealand Europeans, Page said.

And Whanganui District Health Board data suggests well-off parents aren't getting their children vaccinated, with a 74 per cent consent rate at the regions' low decile schools compared with 54 per cent at high decile schools.

Although there was no definitive national data on HPV vaccination by decile rating, Page said it was likely this trend would be reflected across the board.

Overall, 58 per cent of Year 8 girls in New Zealand are vaccinated - a much lower rate than the United Kingdom, where it is 86 per cent, and Australia, more than 70 per cent.

She said there was a fear among parents that giving them the vaccine could sexualise them at a young age, although international research showed there was no correlation between the vaccination and sexual promiscuity.

"Some people think that getting it at Year 8 is too young, some have safety and side effects concerns or think the vaccine is too new," Page said.

Others thought their daughters would make an informed decision about getting the vaccination when they were older.

"When you compare it to the Year 7s, who are getting tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough vaccinations, you don't get the same arguments."

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said it was "incredibly sad" that people were put off by the sexual connotations of the vaccine.

"If there was any other vaccine that reduced cancers as much as this vaccine you would happily sign up for it and you would happily sign your children up for it," she said. "The reality is it's an incredibly effective vaccine."

Page wants parents, caregivers and health professionals to take part in her short online survey, which looks at attitudes towards the vaccine. Those willing to take part can email her: k.page@massey.ac.nz.