Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common of all sexually transmitted infections, with more than 100 different types. It causes almost all cases of cervical cancer, and to a lesser extent is to blame for several other cancers, including mouth and throat.
A three-dose vaccine significantly reduces the chances of contracting an HPV-related cancer, especially when it’s given to adolescent boys and girls before they become sexually active.
But because some parents worry that the HPV vaccination will give their kids the green light to have sex, public health professionals are focusing less on how the virus is transmitted and more on the cancer-prevention aspect of the vaccine.
A Wednesday afternoon panel discussion in Kansas City, sponsored by the Mid America Immunization Coalition, highlighted many of the efforts underway to boost HPV vaccination rates in Missouri and Kansas, both of which lag behind the nation as a whole when it comes to fully vaccinating adolescent males and females.
According survey data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in July, only about a quarter of adolescent females in Kansas and Missouri had completed the full regimen. The national average was 40 percent, although that was still well below the rate sought by public health advocates.
There are dollars flowing into Missouri and Kansas to help increase HPV vaccination rates, said Regina Weir, an official with the immunization coalition. She said the community must think beyond grant cycles.
“As we all know, with funding, it will last for 15 months, two years, and then it’s gone, and then we are kind of back to where we were,” Weir said. “That was one of the reasons for bringing everybody together and sharing all of what we are doing right now, and stressing the important piece of where are we going from here.”
One positive indicator, reported by Stephanie Lambert-Barth of the Kansas HPV Vaccination Project: She said that orders for HPV vaccines through a federal program that helps low-income families get vaccinations increased 15 percent last year in Kansas, whereas orders nationally increased by less than 1 percent.
Other initiatives underway:
- A two-day meeting scheduled for later this month in Kansas City, convened by the Jackson County Health Department through a $35,000 grant it received late last year to help boost HPV vaccination rates. Project coordinator Carol Roberson said the meeting will bring together about 25 representatives from different organizations to help develop an action plan.
- Efforts by the Kansas City Infectious Diseases Community Coalition Board, a partnership that includes academic researchers, patients, parents, and health care providers. One idea is to catch high school students on their way to college when they no longer need parental permission for the vaccine, said coalition member Andrea Bradley-Ewing of Children’s Mercy Hospital. “A late vaccination is better than no vaccination at all,” she said.
- An HPV vaccination summit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services hopes to convene this summer.
Mike Sherry is a reporter for KCPT television in Kansas City, Mo., a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.