In Afghanistan, the Taliban has murdered United Nations health workers attempting to administer the polio vaccine in rural villages and has convinced villagers that the vaccine is a Western plot to infect Afghan children.

While U.S. health workers aren’t being gunned down, misguided and backward thinking also has prevented American families from taking full advantage of a vaccine that could prevent thousands of cases of cervical cancer each year.

Researchers believe that the Gardasil vaccine to block infection by the human papillomavirus could prevent up to 70 percent of all cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week, however, that immunization rates across the nation have stalled over the last year.

HPVs are the most common cause of sexually transmitted infections. More than half of people who are sexually active become infected with one of the more than 40 types of HPV that are known to spread during vaginal, oral or anal sex, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The viruses are responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer and most cases of anal cancer. The viruses also cause more than half of the cancers in the middle part of the throat and about half of vaginal, vulvular and penile cancers.

The vaccine can practically eliminate that risk, especially if it is administered to teens before they become sexually active so their bodies can develop immunity. Since 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization practices has recommended routine vaccination of adolescent girls ages 11 or 12.

The need to inoculate children against HPV remains no matter who pays for it. We shouldn’t let superstition, ignorance — or false economy — deter us from ensuring that as many as possible receive this lifesaving vaccine.

— The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C., Aug. 1

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