HPV Awareness Does Not Increase Vaccination Rates

October 7, 2014
Rachel Lutz

Parents who know about the human papillomavirus are not more likely to get their adolescent daughters vaccinated.

Parents who know about the human papillomavirus (HPV) are not more likely to get their adolescent daughters vaccinated, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

For 12 months, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 211 females aged 13 to 18 years and 149 parents and/or guardians of other adolescents to determine whether HPV vaccination correlated with their baseline knowledge of it.

“I decided to conduct this study because many had placed much promise on knowledge levels, arguing that low knowledge levels were essentially to blame for the low vaccination rates,” lead study author Jessica Fishman, PhD, told Pharmacy Times in an exclusive interview. “Almost all related studies measure knowledge; however, it wasn’t known whether knowledge levels were actually related to the likelihood of receiving vaccination.”

For the study, the adolescents and parents answered 18 questions measuring their knowledge of HPV vaccination. Included in the questionnaire were the following topics: health consequences and symptoms of HPV; HPV and cervical screening; HPV causes, risk factors, and transmission; HPV prevalence; and HPV vaccination and cervical cancer prevention.

In response to each statement, participants could choose either “true,” “false,” or “don’t know.” Correct responses were scored as 1, while all other responses were given a score of 0.

Among the adolescents, baseline knowledge scores ranged from 0 to 18. Although 10% of the young females did not answer any of the questions correctly, the group reported 6.4 correct answers, on average. Those who had not received the HPV vaccine recorded scores that were similar to their vaccinated counterparts.

Among the parents, baseline knowledge scores ranged from 0 to 16, with an average of 7.6 correct answers, though 5% did not answer any questions correctly. Nevertheless, the parents’ knowledge scores were not associated with their daughters’ subsequent vaccination status.

Thus, the researchers concluded that neither the parents’ nor the adolescents’ knowledge scores were related to vaccination status throughout the 12-month study period.

“Some did have low levels of knowledge, but they were as likely to get vaccinated as those with higher levels of knowledge,” Dr. Fishman concluded. “You can say they weren’t handicapped by their knowledge levels.”

The researchers said they hope to use their findings to promote interventions that target factors related to HPV vaccination.

“Previously, many have…contended that if only the public learns the facts about HPV and the vaccine, they would make the healthy choice. But, as this study found, those with high knowledge levels were not more likely to get vaccinated,” Dr. Fishman noted. “Fortunately, there are opportunities to address factors that do influence vaccination rates. Ideally, vaccinations will be recommended and made conveniently and affordably available.”