ICHP Researchers Receive NCI Grant Aimed at Increasing Rates of HPV Vaccination

Published: July 11th, 2019

Category: News, Uncategorized

Stephanie Staras, Ph.D.A team of UF Health researchers received a 5-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to evaluate simple interventions aimed at health care providers and parents that could substantially boost vaccine rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) among 11- and 12-year-olds.

Despite national recommendations that all 11- and 12-year-olds routinely receive the HPV vaccine, only about half of teens start the vaccine series, according to Stephanie Staras, Ph.D., ICHP researcher and associate professor in the College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics. She is the principal investigator of the grant. Moreover, a recent study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that only about 16% were fully protected by the time they turned 13.

Staras said Florida teens are particularly vulnerable.

“The state ranks fourth for HPV-related cancer diagnoses, such as cervical cancer, but 39th for starting and completing the HPV vaccine series,” she said. With nearly $5 million in total funding, Staras has spent the last 10 years studying provider and parent targeted interventions designed to increase compliance with HPV vaccine recommendations.

“There is a real need for more effective and practical ways to increase provider recommendations of the HPV vaccine to parents, and have parents be more prepared for these conversations,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, a common family of viruses that can infect the skin or mucous membranes of parts of the body. The virus can lead to abnormal cells on the cervix, vulva, anus, penis, mouth and throat that sometimes develop into cancer.

In 2006 (girls) and 2009 (boys), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine that protects against infection with human papillomavirus and likely seven types of related cancers, including cervical cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. HPV vaccination rates continue to increase nationwide, but still remain low.

The CDC recommends vaccination beginning at ages 11 or 12 because the HPV vaccine provides the most protection for individuals who have not yet been exposed to the virus and the immune system response is stronger at younger ages. Healthy preteens who get vaccinated will need only two doses of the vaccine given 6 to 12 months apart, whereas individuals aged 15 years and above need three doses given within 6 months.

Doctor giving an injection to a young patient

Staras said provider recommendations are crucial to increasing vaccine rates.

“We know from previous research that provider recommendations carry a lot of weight in persuading parents to have their children vaccinated,” Staras said. When providers recommend the vaccine to parents, HPV vaccination rates increase by 50 percent.

Many providers, especially within in Florida, don’t routinely recommend the vaccine for their 11- to 12-year-old patients.

Staras and her team of UF researchers (Drs. Carma Bylund, Lindsay Thompson, Matthew Gurka, Jiang Bian, and Elizabeth Shenkman) will evaluate ways to increase the frequency of provider recommendations by training providers to use short scripts highlighting the routineness of vaccines or the cancer prevention benefits. The team also prepares parents of preteens for these conversations with educational text messages.

“We believe these inexpensive communications strategies can be easily implemented in a clinical setting, where they have the potential to substantially raise the rates for HPV vaccines,” Staras said.