AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a new push by the American Cancer Society to educate parents and encourage healthcare providers to offer the human papillomavirus vaccine in Texas. This comes after new research finds the Lone Star state ranks 47th in the country for the number of kids fully vaccinated for the virus.

The new campaign called Mission HPV Cancer Free hopes to raise the vaccination rate from a third of kids between the ages of 11 and 12 to 80 percent by 2026, when the vaccine celebrates its 20th anniversary.

According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, HPV is very common, found in nearly 80 million people. However, many never know it because they never demonstrate symptoms. But the CDC reports HPV can lead to six different cancers:

  • cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women
  • cancers of the penis in men
  • cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men

“The reality is we are doing a pretty poor job in Texas of preventing the virus and then to prevent the cancer,” says Greg Parkington with the American Cancer Society. “A lot of folks want to talk about finding a cure for cancer — here we have a shot that can prevent six cancers types, yet we are not doing a good job of doing it.”

One of the reasons some have been against the vaccine is because HPV is spread through skin to skin contact, and some parents worry it could lead to their children having sex at a younger age. The American Cancer Society disputes that claim.

“The primary reason you want to get it at 11 or 12 is no different than sunscreen or buckling your seat belt when you get in the car — is for prevention,” Parkington says. “You don’t put sunscreen on after 10 hours in the sun. You don’t buckle after being in the car for 10 hours.”

In 2007, then-Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order mandating every girl between the ages of 11-12 get the vaccine. After a public uproar over that order, lawmakers passed legislation that ended it.

The CDC offers information on its website so parents can make an informed decision. The agency monitors any side effects and says most of them are usually mild.

One parent’s story 

Nicole Cukierman has three children ages 17, 14 and 10. She had reservations when her eldest child got the HPV vaccine. 

“I talk to my husband. I talk to my peers. I talk to my family. And I talk to doctors. After gathering all of that information I make my own decision,” Cukierman said.

After her doctor recommended it, she says she sided with the science and feels good about it. 

“The more kids I had, the more comfortable I got with it. When you see that there is no reaction, you feel better about it after a while.”

Her son will get the HPV vaccine next year when he turns 11.

But there’s resistance from some since HPV is primarily a sexually transmitted virus.

“There is a concern why now? Why so young? Is that going to promote sexual activity in my child? Studies across the board show that that is not true,” said Kyle pediatrician Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards. She says the ultimate intimacy decision revolves around peers and parents. 

“Whatever the parents message about intimacy does not change,” said Dr. Edwards.