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April 6, 2018 - Alabama has 'room for improvement' on HPV vaccinations, CDC official says
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Dr. Melinda Wharton, national director of Immunization and Pulmonary Medicine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addresses state and local health officials at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

MOBILE, Alabama (4/6/2018) – How to vaccinate more youth against HPV-related cancers was the topic of a collaboration among local, state and national health officials recently at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute.

Alabama ranks first in cervical cancer deaths and fifth in cervical cancer incidence behind Mississippi, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and Oklahoma, according to the CDC. However, state and local vaccination rates against the Human Papillomavirus, which is linked to seven cancers including cervical, lag behind the national average.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement, and too many young people in Alabama are not protected from cancers that can be prevented,” said Dr. Melinda Wharton, national director of Immunization and Pulmonary Medicine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wharton met with health officials at MCI Thursday.

In Alabama, 51.7 percent of youth ages 13-17 had received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine in 2016 compared with 60.4 percent nationally, according to the CDC.

Vaccination rates are even lower locally, according to Alabama Department of Public Health statistics. In Mobile County, 47 percent of youth ages 11-15 had received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, according to a 2018 report. In Baldwin, the number was 31 percent.

“We wanted to bring together a group of stakeholders from the Gulf Coast region, who are already leaders in HPV vaccination, to come up with concrete ideas for how to protect our youth from seven dangerous cancers in adulthood,” said Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, a gynecologic oncologist who leads Cancer Control and Prevention at MCI.

Wharton emphasized the role that physicians and others play. “We know that health-care providers who make a strong recommendation for the vaccine and implement comprehensive quality improvement can achieve high vaccine coverage in their practices,” she said.

The HPV vaccine, recommended by the CDC for boys and girls ages 11 and 12, is given in two or three doses depending on age. It protects against infection from the Human Papillomavirus, which is linked to cancers of the cervix, mouth/throat, anus, rectum, penis, vagina and vulva. The vaccine can be administered as young as age 9.

“We are passionate about working with national and state officials, health-care providers, parents and patients to make the dream of eliminating HPV-associated cancers a reality,” said Casey Daniel, Ph.D., assistant professor of Oncologic Sciences at MCI.

USA Mitchell Cancer Institute is the only academic cancer research and treatment facility on the upper Gulf Coast corridor, with locations in Mobile, Fairhope and Monroeville.

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