The vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most effective life-saving measures in medicine, and yet it has long suffered from poor public perception.
“I’m not sure that we as medicine have sold this vaccine very well,” said Fort Worth pediatric infectious disease specialist Mark Shelton, MD. “This is the first vaccine that actually prevents cancer. It can prevent most cervical cancer, most vaginal cancer, most penile cancer, most anal cancer, most orolingual cancer. ... We’re talking about 36,500 patients a year with cancer, and most of that can be prevented.”
He says parents have long been thrown off by the fact that HPV is the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection, as well as by misinformation from the internet falsely accusing the vaccine of causing life-threatening side effects, like Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“The three things the parents are saying are that their child is not sexually active, it’s just not necessary, and [they have] safety concerns,” Dr. Shelton said.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has created yet another obstacle for public acceptance of the HPV vaccine. COVID caused childhood vaccine rates to plummet as families stopped bringing children to in-person physician appointments in the months after the novel disease emerged in the U.S. in March 2020.
Those rates seem to have mostly rebounded as physicians resumed normal operations. But Texas physicians report that parents have been more hesitant about the HPV vaccine than other childhood vaccines since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (See “Getting Another Shot,” July 2022 Texas Medicine, pages 45-47, www.texmed.org/GettingAnotherShot.)
The good news: Physicians still have a great deal of credibility with parents about vaccines, and they need to use it to overcome vaccine hesitation, Dr. Shelton says.
“People still trust their doctors,” he said. “And I think physicians – by giving really good, accurate information – can go a long way to helping improve the vaccination rates.”
There is a lot of misinformation about vaccines so Texas Medicine highlights common concerns that patients raise about immunizations. This material is designed to help you talk to your patients and help them understand the benefits of vaccines. Find printable infographics and helpful videos for your patients at www.texmed.org/TalktoPatients and through Vaccines Defend What Matters, the Texas Medical Association’s integrated, multimedia public health education and advocacy effort, at www.texmed.org/VDWM.
Tex Med. 2022;118(7):48
Aug/Sept 2022 Texas Medicine Contents Texas Medicine Main Page