Preventing cancer with a much-needed vaccine

Teen boy and girl.

Written by Shari Roan

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a revolutionary vaccine that was the first ever to protect against some types of cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). However, more than a decade later, the vaccine is misunderstood and underutilized. 

That’s why the Partners for Healthy Kids van at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers San Pedro and Torrance is devoting resources to improve HPV vaccination rates in the South Bay. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease. Certain strains of the virus increase the risk of several types of cancers, including cervical, vaginal, esophageal, anal and penile cancer. 


43.4% of teens ages 13 to 17 had received a complete HPV vaccination and only about 15% were completely vaccinated against HPV by age 13.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics and many major health organizations recommend the HPV vaccination for all children at ages 11 or 12, but too few parents opt to have their children vaccinated. According to a study published earlier this year in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, only 43.4% of teens ages 13 to 17 had received a complete HPV vaccination and only about 15% were completely vaccinated against HPV by age 13. 

There are many reasons kids do not receive this potentially lifesaving vaccine, says Justin Joe, coordinator of community health efforts for Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers in Torrance and San Pedro. They range from parents not knowing about the vaccine, misunderstanding its purpose or poor access to health care. 

“One of the issues is that parents lack knowledge about the vaccine and think it is something that can wait,” he says. “Another issue is they fear it is condoning sexual activity. From an outreach perspective, there needs to be more awareness to help people make the right choice.” 

HPV vaccination program statistics“Our vaccination numbers are not what they should be,” says Nancy A. Tsuyuki, manager, Community Health. “It’s not a mandatory vaccine. You don’t have to have it to get into school or stay in school. It’s optional. There is education that still needs to be done around this.” 

Providence Little Company of Mary has several programs aimed at improving vaccination rates. An outreach program to deliver HPV vaccination—which is typically a two-shot series—stems from Providence Little Company of Mary’s longstanding work providing childhood immunizations in the community through schools or a mobile health clinic, Joe says. 

In 2016, Providence received a federal grant totaling $250,000 over five years to increase HPV vaccination rates in the community. The grant helps pay for the nurse who works on the Partners for Healthy Kids mobile health clinic and for marketing and supplies. The van is well known in the community, delivering other vaccinations as well as making sick-child visits. 

The HPV vaccination program is focused on elementary, middle and high schools. Many students in the local high schools are not immunized, Tsuyuki says. 

“Health educators go to parent meetings and talk to them about the vaccine,” she says. “A lot of times the moms have questions and want answers, and once they have more knowledge, they are ready for their child to get the immunization.”

For more information about Partners for Healthy Kids van and other community health programs, visit providence.org/CAcommunityhealth.

 

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