Published March 10th, 2016 at 12:32 PM
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:
— Mike Sherry is a member of the Heartland Health Monitor team, a reporting collaboration among KCUR, KCPT, KHI News Service and Kansas Public Radio.