HPV Vaccine May Protect Against Pediatric Disease

Mother-to-child HPV transmission may result in a life-threatening respiratory disease.

The CDC recommends that young children receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent the risk of developing cancer related to the virus later in life. Despite its potentially life-saving benefits, many children do not get the vaccine or finish the series of vaccinations.

A new study published by The Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests that the HPV vaccine may also protect pediatric patients from developing an incurable respiratory condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.

The authors discovered that the rate of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis is plummeting in Australia, which has a very successful HPV vaccination program.

"This is a world-first finding of evidence that the HPV vaccine has actually prevented recurrent respiratory papillomatosis cases," said study author Julia M.L. Brotherton, MD, PhD, MPH. "It's really exciting that we finally have a way to prevent this terrible disease. It adds to the list of strong reasons why you as a parent should choose to vaccinate your child."

This rare respiratory condition is thought to occur when HPV type 6 or 11 is transmitted from mother to child during birth, according to the authors. Some children may develop non-cancerous papillomas in the respiratory tract, which can affect breathing.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis can be life-threatening and require surgery. Current estimates project that the condition costs approximately $123 million in the United States each year.

In the new study, the authors analyzed data from a nationwide surveillance program developed to monitor the condition.

In 2012, there were 7 cases of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis in 2012. The number of new cases each year was observed to decline over the next 5 years, with only 1 case in 2016, according to the study.

The authors note that the mothers of the children diagnosed between 2012 and 2016 were not vaccinated against HPV before pregnancy.

Australia has a publically-funded HPV immunization program, which provides the vaccine at schools. The authors said that 86% of girls and 79% of boys aged between 14 and 15 years received the vaccine. Comparatively, the CDC reports that only 60% of individuals aged 13 to 17 years received at least 1 dose of the vaccine in 2016.

The authors hypothesize that the high vaccination rates in Australia corresponded with lower rates of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. In turn, this may also reduce spending on the condition.

In a related commentary, the authors said the findings were encouraging and that high-income countries should analyze the effects of their vaccination programs.

"National and individual vaccine hesitancy remains common, and, unless these hesitant countries are persuaded by the ever-expanding benefits of quadrivalent HPV vaccination, millions of dollars in health spending along with countless unnecessary episodes of disease and death will occur in the coming decades,” the authors of the commentary wrote.