Virginia Led, Then Lagged on HPV Vaccine

Nov 25, 2015

Virginia was the first state in the nation to require that kids entering the sixth grade be vaccinated against human papilloma -- a virus that causes cervical, oral, throat and other cancers.  Parents can opt out of that requirement, and  many of them do.  Virginia ranks 44th in the nation when it comes to HPV vaccination.   A team of nurses at the University of Virginia is looking at that problem and making recommendations, as Sandy Hausman reports.

Credit University of Virginia

When it was introduced in 2006, medical experts hailed the first vaccine to prevent cancer, and the Centers for Disease Control recommended kids get the first of three shots at age 11 or 12, but in Virginia,  only 28  percent of teenaged girls have gotten all three shots, and  just 12 percent of boys were vaccinated.  Some parents think it’s unnecessary, since HPV is sexually transmitted, but Assistant Nursing Professors Emma Mitchell and Jessica Keim-Malpass say it’s  important to do this early.

“We have the best chance of preventing adverse health effects if we do get them before they become sexually active," Mitchell explains. "It only takes one exposure.  Someone who isn’t sexually active but will be someday is still going to be at risk.”

“As they get older, we know that adolescents are less likely to come to their pediatrician office annually for their well child visits," Keim-Malpass adds, " so the  11-12 year-old age range is what’s been recommended by CDC.”                                                                                                                                    

Emma Mitchell and Jessica Keim-Malpass are assistant professors at the UVA School of Nursing and authors of a study on teens and the HPV vaccine.
Credit University of Virginia

They studied 3,400 patients over a five year period and found even those who got a first shot were unlikely to follow up with recommended boosters at one and six months.  One possible explanation appears on Twitter, where a few parents claimed their kids had side effects from the vaccine.

“When parents are confused about this," Keim-Malpass says, "they are often going to social media sites, and we found .that overall only 50% off messages regarding the HPV vaccine were, in fact, positive.”

One possible solution, Mitchell says, is to group the HPV vaccine with shots for diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and meningitis.

“Pairing prevention strategies has been a long-standing gold standard.  When you go for your annual wellness visit, there’s a lot of health information and practices and procedures and screenings that your provider will try to bundle together.”

And the UVA nursing team says  it makes sense to move beyond pediatricians when talking about this vaccine so young adults, seeing gynecologists or internists, can be encouraged to catch up on immunization.