Study: Low-Income Girls Less Likely to Get HPV Vaccine, Reasons Vary


The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended as part of routine vaccinations for girls ages 11 and 12, but research has shown that few young people actually get all three of the required doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that only 54 percent of girls initiated the vaccine and only 33 percent received all three doses in 2012. The completion rate is even lower—28 percent—for girls under the poverty line.

New research released last week looked into the reasons why low-income parents do not get their daughters vaccinated and found that they include inadequate explanations by health-care providers, distrust of the government and medicine, and beliefs about pre-marital sex. Moreover, the research found that these reasons varied based on whether parents spoke primarily English or Spanish.

Researchers conducted phone interviews and focus groups with 41 low-income parents of girls ages 12 to 15 in the Denver area. Approximately half of the parents spoke English, and the other half spoke Spanish. Within each language group, half of the parents had initiated HPV vaccines for their daughters but not completed them, and the other half had not initiated them at all. The results were presented at IDWeek 2013, the annual meeting of four professional groups dedicated to infectious diseases.

The results found that English-speaking parents were more likely to note safety concerns about the vaccine and distrust of the government or medicine in general. They were also more likely to perceive their daughters’ risk of HPV infection as low. In contrast, Spanish-speaking parents were more concerned that the vaccine would undermine their messages of “no sex before marriage.” Spanish-speaking parents also said that their health-care providers did not encourage the vaccine or had not adequately explained that the vaccine required three shots over the course of six months.

“The reasons low-income girls did not initiate or complete HPV vaccination were strikingly different depending on whether their parents spoke English or Spanish,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, one of the researchers, said in a statement. “This insight should be helpful to health educators and policymakers as they seek ways to improve vaccination rates.”

Specifically, O’Leary suggests that information about the vaccine and the need to get all shots written in Spanish might help Spanish-speaking parents, whereas more information about the vaccine’s safety might be what English-speaking parents need.

HPV is very common, with about 79 million Americans currently infected and some 14 million new infections each year. Moreover, about 17,400 women in the United States get cancer caused by the virus each year, with cervical cancer being the most common type. HPV-related cancers of the neck, throat, and penis also affect almost 8,800 men each year. There are two vaccines on the market—Gardasil and Cervarix—that have been shown to prevent infection with the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer.

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