African-Americans aware and accepting, but often do not receive, the HPV vaccine

Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 10:04 in Health & Medicine

Although only 25 percent of eligible African-American adolescents have received the HPV vaccine, a new survey presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities, suggests they have a positive view of the treatment and might respond to more education. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Health is funding research to develop ways to increase the rate of HPV vaccination among those at highest risk. HPV vaccination prevents cervical cancer by inoculating against the human papillomavirus.

"The consensus among those surveyed in our study was that it would be a good, beneficial option," said Ian Frank, M.D., professor of medicine in the Infectious Diseases Division of the University of Pennsylvania.

The HPV vaccine, approved for use in the United States as Gardasil and manufactured by Merck and Co., has been shrouded in controversy since it was released in June 2006.

Frank said the controversies break down into four basic areas. Following approval, Merck pushed for mandatory vaccination, which is generally opposed by citizens in the United States who believe health care decisions should not be forced. Others were concerned about the long-term efficacy of the vaccine or its possible side effects.

Most famously, some groups insisted that if adolescents were aware that they could inoculate themselves against the human papillomavirus, which is spread through sexual contact, they would be more likely to have early sexual relations.

"I doubt that whether or not she is at risk for cervical cancer is on an adolescent's mind in the heat of the moment," said Frank.

Frank said the African-Americans who participated in the survey conducted by his research group were aware of these controversies, but they did not outweigh their positive views of the vaccine as an option.

Researchers surveyed 71 females for the study; 94 percent were African-American and the mean age was 15.3 years. Approximately 60 percent of them had had their first sexual encounter when they were 14 years old.

Of those who had not received the vaccine, 43.9 percent said they were very likely or likely to do so soon. A majority believed it was a "good" or "very good" idea and they generally viewed the vaccine as "safe," "effective" and a "wise choice."

Forty-five caregivers of adolescents also participated in the study, all of whom were African-American, 94 percent were female and 47.9 percent had a high school diploma.

The caregivers agreed that the vaccine was "safe," "effective" and a "wise choice," but two-thirds of them could not recall their health care provider ever mentioning the HPV vaccine.

"Many of these caregivers, most of whom were women, reported feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of raising an adolescent girl, but they wanted to protect their daughters from health and emotional risks," said Frank. "This suggests they would respond positively to an increased effort to inoculate."

Source: American Association for Cancer Research

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