USA Health researchers studying HPV vaccination rates in Alabama discovered that counties with higher rates of HPV-related cancers in unvaccinated adults had higher rates of HPV vaccinations among adolescents, according to research presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer.
By Carol McPhail
USA Health researchers studying human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates in Alabama discovered that counties with higher rates of HPV-related cancers in unvaccinated adults had higher rates of HPV vaccinations among adolescents, according to research presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer.
“The main takeaway is that perception of high cancer risk may overcome traditional disparities that can affect HPV vaccine uptake,” said Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, who heads Cancer Control and Prevention at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. “We theorized that if you or someone you know has had an HPV-related cancer, you’re more likely to vaccinate your children against HPV.”
The research was one of 12 studies accepted for oral or poster presentations at the national meeting held in Honolulu in March.
The study sought to explore reasons why HPV vaccination rates vary so widely among counties in Alabama, ranging from 33 percent to 66 percent. Researchers wanted to understand why parents chose to vaccinate their children against HPV and if they encountered obstacles in gaining access to the vaccine.
The data showed little difference in HPV vaccine uptake between urban and rural counties, and between affluent and poor ones. The seven counties with the highest HPV vaccination rates were both rural and low income, Pierce said.
“We believe that the higher vaccination rates could be similar to the increase in measles vaccination following the recent outbreak,” Pierce said. “If you think you’re at a higher risk, you are more likely to protect yourself and your family.”
The study also found higher HPV vaccination rates among residents who receive government-funded healthcare and the highest HPV rates in some counties that have no pediatricians.
The HPV vaccine protects against a variety of cancers in men and women, including cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and oropharyngeal. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11-12, with catch-up to age 26. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also recommends that individuals ages 27-45 speak with their doctors about receiving the vaccine.
Authors on the study included Pierce, Macy Juel Vickers, Chelsea Green, MPH, Jennifer M. Scalici, M.D. and Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D.
This story was updated July 12, 2019, for clarity and to include additional information.