Led by Drs. Ellen M. Daley and Cheryl A. Vamos, a team of PhD and MPH students from the Department of Community and Family Health is working to increase awareness about the benefits of HPV vaccination in Hillsborough County.
Dubbed the “Vaccine Ambassadors” by the Tampa Tribune after the successful kick-off of an HPV vaccination campaign by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), doctoral student Laura Merrell and MPH students Maryouri Avendano, Taylor Caragan, Teresa Colon-Asumu, Paige Hammond, Ina Hysi, Rudith Laine, Shivani Mehta and Calvin Robinson are putting their education to good use by creating targeted HPV vaccine awareness materials for the people of Hillsborough County. They’re also volunteering to speak with parents at upcoming back-to-school events.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, causes cervical cancer and genital warts, and is associated with several other types of cancer in both men and women. The virus also can be passed during childbirth, resulting in the child developing warts in the throat during adolescence. The CDC estimates that 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and 14 million new infections occur each year.
The HPV vaccine is very effective and safe in preventing infection, CDC says, yet Florida has the lowest rate of vaccination in the United States, according to a Tampa Bay Times editorial. Only 25.3 percent of adolescent females in Florida have been vaccinated, the Times says, while the national rate is 33.4 percent.
The Times says reasons for the poor vaccination rates include a low awareness of the vaccine and its benefits among parents. Another is the expense, typically close to $500, although many health insurance policies cover the six-month, three-dose series of injections, and for the uninsured, coverage is available through the federal Vaccines for Children program. Children ages 11 and 12 are the primary target group for the vaccine.
On June 30, faculty and students from the USF College of Public Health helped Rep. Castor celebrate the start of the vaccination initiative. In addition to the educational materials students are creating, Castor also has assembled a task force of parents, cancer survivors, community organizations, local family doctors, researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center, physicians from the USF Morsani College of Medicine, and faculty and students from COPH.
“I’ve known for a while that HPV vaccination rates were very low in Florida,” Caragan told the Tribune, “but when I found out we were the lowest, I just thought that was horrible.”
A larger event with local, state and national persons passionate about reducing HPV-related cancer is planned for Aug. 12.
MPH students and “Vaccine Ambassadors” Taylor Caragan (in green) and Rudith Laine talk with a reporter about the HPV vaccination initiative.
Story by Laura Merrell and David Brothers, College of Public Health. Photo courtesy of Laura Merrell.