Public Health Groups Push To Improve HPV Vaccination Rates

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LINN COUNTY — Public health departments are pushing to get more teens protected against the human papillomavirus (HPV) — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is linked to multiple cancers, including cervical cancer.

“We want teens to get (the vaccination) before sex is even in the picture,” said Heather Meador, senior public health nurse at Linn County Public Health. “We want them to have a healthy future.”

So the Iowa Department of Public Health as well as Linn County Public Health and the Linn County Immunization Coalition are in the midst of campaigns to increase the HPV vaccination rate.

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots spread out over six months and is recommends to girls and boys 11 to 12 years old. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26, if they were not vaccinated when they were younger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives.

But a person with HPV doesn’t always show symptoms, and symptoms may not develop until years after having sex with the partner who initially carried the disease. If left untreated, HPV can cause genital warts as well as multiples types of cancer, including cervical cancer, throat cancer and cancer of the penis or anus.

Vaccination rates

About 27,000 men and women nationwide are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection each year, including more than 262 Iowans, according to public health departments. But state public health officials estimate 81 percent of those cancers could be prevented.


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The CDC said nationwide the number of 13- to 17-year-old boys and girls getting the vaccine is increasing.

Estimates show that 60 percent of adolescent girls and 42 percent of adolescent boys have received one or more doses of HPV vaccine. This was an increase of 3 percentage points for girls and 8 percentage points for boys from 2013, according to data from the 2014 National Immunization Survey.

In Iowa, about 60 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys received at least one dose. But according to the IDPH annual immunization report, only about 27 percent of Iowa females finished the vaccine series in 2014 and 15 percent of males completed the series.

Those percentages were even lower in Linn and Johnson counties.

l In Linn County, 25 percent of female teens and 14 percent of male teens completed the series

l In Johnson County, 19 percent of females and 14 percent of males completed the series.

But the HPV vaccination is not required by law for the majority of the nation’s students — only Washington, D.C., and Virginia have HPV vaccination rules. That could explain in part why Iowa and other states’ immunization rates are far lower for the vaccine than for others including Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap) and hepatitis B — 74 percent and 87 percent in Iowa, respectively.

Prevention campaign

So public health departments are stepping in to help fill the gaps.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is wrapping up a billboard and radio ad campaign, which has run from January 2015 to August 2015 and has been aimed at getting students vaccinated before the new school year.

The billboards, placed in 25 cities across Iowa, including Cedar Rapids, read, “You can prevent cancer — HPV vaccine is the key.”

“We focused our attention on cancer prevention,” said Bethany Kintigh, IDPH immunization program manager. “What parent doesn’t want to prevent cancer in their child?”



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Kintigh said she expects to see an improvement in the 2015 immunization numbers, adding when the CDC’s annual survey was conducted in January, the campaign had just begun and hadn’t had much impact.

Meanwhile, Linn County Public Health is putting up billboard and bus wraps that read, “Give your child a cancer free happily ever after. HPV vaccine.”

Meador said Linn County Public Health is setting up vaccination clinics in areas outside doctors’ offices — including middle and high school campuses in the Cedar Rapids Community School District — to make things more convenient for parents and students. It also is working with area colleges including Mount Mercy University, Coe College and Cornell College.

The county spent about $16,000 on advertising and vaccinations, she said, all of which was obtained through grants. The county also is providing an educational component to help cut down on myths about the vaccine, such as that it’s unsafe or promotes sex.

“We can have an impact here,” she said.

Source :

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