After 11 years HPV vaccinations still on the decline, say medical professionals

In the last 11 years vaccinations for the human papilloma virus have been available yet not everyone is convinced they want the vaccine intended to prevent six different types cancers in males and females, said health experts at a recent McHenry County HPV Vaccination Coalition.

Adam Nation, health systems manager for state health systems at the American Cancer Society, said the vaccination is optional and when parents are asked if they want the vaccine for their child, which can be given as young as 9, a typical response is "they don’t need it because they are not having sex."

Nation said the virus can be spread through sexual contact but also though kissing and fondling. Therefore, he said, condoms are not always useful in the prevention of contracting the virus known to lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and throat.

The virus, which is increasing in men, can be passed when there is no visible sign of infection. There are 12 strains of HPV that can lead to cancer.

For a patient in the optimal age only two doses of the vaccine are required, experts say.
One of the struggles is getting those eligible patients bak to the office to complete their series.

In Illinois and nationwide the administration of the “optional” vaccine is about 60 percent for girls and about 50 percent for boys. The rate for all other required vaccinations is between 85 and 90 percent, Nation said.

However, Nation said the city of Chicago has done “really well” and has the highest level of HPV vaccines to boys and girls. He credits that to access to Federally Qualified Health Centers and clinics housed in various Chicago public schools.

Data on exactly how many HPV vaccinations are administered and how many people are living with HPV is difficult to track because it is not a “reportable” disease, said Benjamin J. Baer, epidemiologist with the McHenry County Health Department.

Baer said goals of the newly formed McHenry County coalition include building a data base, increasing the number of vaccinations in the county, better informing parents and providing age appropriate information to children about the virus and the vaccine.

One medical professional from an area health care system said physicians and nurses are given incentives and encouraged to follow up with patients who have not been vaccinated or have not received their full doses.

She also said physicians are often met with push back from parents when they mention the vaccination, again saying their child "is not having sex therefore they do not need the vaccine."

To overcome this way of parental thinking, physicians and nurses are coached on how to speak to parents sitting in the doctor's office on typical visits. A nurse is advised to offer the vaccine as part of a routine check up, provide parents with a pamphlet, leave the room then let the physician enter and discuss the vaccine.

The representative said demographics seem to play a role in how the information is received by a parent. She said lower educated parents more often trust the physician and allow their child to be vaccinated, while higher educated parents are more likely to question its necessity.

The McHenry County coalition was born out of a conversation in March between Emmanuel Zambrano, health system manager at the American Cancer Society, and Stephany Rico, wellness coordinator at Family Health Partnership Clinic in Crystal Lake.

Zambrano attended a routine event “Celebremos La Vida” where the clinic provides free medical services such as pap smears and breast exams to lower-income women. The two began to discuss how parents did not know or understand the HPV virus or the vaccine and were concerned for their young children.

They then decided to put the coalition together inviting area medical professionals and county staff as well as those who work in local schools.

Rachel Garcia, is a bilingual educator and parent liaison, from Harvard School District 50. She attended out of concern for parents she works with at Harvard Middle School, where 65 percent of the school’s population are Hispanic, live within a lower income bracket and do not speak English.

She said along with a language barrier these parents are busy and stressed and simply unaware of the virus or how to prevent it from affecting their children.

On the other hand, those who may be aware of the virus fear side effects from the vaccination so they do not vaccinate their children, she said.

Garcia said it is important to find a way to bring the information back to those parents and has plans with Zambrano to do just that.

The next meeting of the McHenry County coalition will be held in February.

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