HPV Vaccination: Recommendations from Immunized Health Professionals Stronger

HPV infection is preventable with immunization, but even though the HPV vaccine has been available for 10 years, uptake is far lower than acceptable.

The wart-causing human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It’s a cancer-causing infectious agent that increases risk of cancer of the anus, mouth, penis, throat, vagina, and vulva, and 2 of its subtypes—HPV16 and HPV18—cause almost all cervical cancers. HPV infection is preventable with immunization, but even though the HPV vaccine has been available for 10 years, uptake is far lower than acceptable.

Previous studies have reported that students who learn about the HPV vaccine from their physicians are more likely to complete the series than those who learn about it from family and friends.

Researchers from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, MI wondered if up-and-coming physicians—physicians who are members of the first generation of youths who received the HPV vaccine—have more positive attitudes about the vaccine. Are they more likely to recommend HPV vaccine to their patients?

These researchers administered a needs assessment survey to 214 medical students at the Midwestern school. Among respondents, 44% had received the entire HPV vaccination series.

In respondents who were younger than age 25, female and male vaccination rates with at least 1 dose of HPV vaccine were 72.3% and 19.3%. This rate is higher than the 2014 national rates of 40.2% and 8.2% for females and males in the same age group respectively.

More than four-fifths of respondents would recommend the vaccine to family and friends, but just two-fifths felt confident about their knowledge of or counseling skills related to the vaccine.

Medical students who had personal experience with the HPV vaccine and had completed the HPV series tended to have more positive attitudes and better knowledge scores than students who had not been vaccinated.

This study, like many others, found that a provider recommendation was strongly associated with a positive HPV vaccination status. Three-quarters of vaccinated students supported mandatory HPV vaccination. The rate was a much lower 38% among non-vaccinated medical students.

The study concludes that medical students need more education about the HPV vaccine so they can encourage patients to start and complete the series. Specific areas where education should focus include the HPV vaccine's ability to prevent cancers other than cervical cancer and its duration of protective immunity (currently estimated at more than 6 years and under ongoing study).

This study appears in the January 2017 issue of BMC Public Health.

Reference

Afonso NM, Kavanagh MJ, Swanberg SM, et al. Will they lead by example? Assessment of vaccination rates and attitudes to human papilloma virus in millennial medical students. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):35.