Here are a couple of sobering statistics for International HPV Awareness Day today: According to the International Papillomavirus Society, about 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are HPV-related and every 2 seconds a woman dies of cervical cancer.
The society's campaign this year makes the telling point that all kinds of entertaining yet not terribly important items go viral online. Remember the dress that looked blue to some people and gold to others? Yet a true virus, and the simple two-dose vaccine that could prevent most cervical cancer -- and many other cancers as well -- gets far less attention.
"Quite understandably, policy and public attention has focused on cervical cancer," said IPVS Advocacy Chair Joel Palefsky. "But HPV shouldn’t just be the concern of women. The virus is carried by men as well as women, and males are also at risk of HPV-related cancers. Everyone is potentially affected by HPV – and everyone can do something to reduce the risks simply by sharing information and lifting the lid on HPV."
Unfortunately, what has gotten too much attention on social media are myths about the HPV vaccine, based on unverified anecdotes. What has gotten too little attention are the many studies -- large-scale studies involving thousands among thousands of patients -- that show the vaccine to be very safe and effective. As a result of myths that apread about the vaccine, immunization rates against HPV are far lower than for most recommended vaccinations.
Some good news that could help change this picture: A recent study gives doctors a potential new tool to persuade anxious parents of preteens and teenagers to have their children protected agains the strains of HPV most likely to cause cancer.
The study, published in December in the journal Pediatrics, found that when parents were shown a video about the mighty benefits and minimal risks of the HPV vaccine, they were far more likely to have their children vaccinated. The study compared randomly selected patients at clinics.
According to a report on the study published in Healio, the work by Brian E. Dixon, associate professor at Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health of Indiana University, involved a "7-month-long randomized trial of an intervention to promote HPV vaccine uptake among adolescent patients" who visited pediatric clinics in an urban area.
Parents in the intervention group, with children ages 11 to 17, were shown a video on a digital tablet in the exam room. Parents in the control group weren't shown a video. Researchers then followed up two weeks later and found ta the parents shown the video were far more likely to have had their children vaccinated.
Of course, this would require a pro-active approach among clinics and physicians. But according to the report in Healio:
[Dixon] said that some clinics have already incorporated the use of tablets into their practices to gather information on health history from families. He suggested that one cost-effective and beneficial use of such an intervention would be to integrate videos into those devices so that the most appropriate video plays after patient history has been collected.
Counteracting viral myths on social media about the HPV vaccine may be difficult, but in the less combative, science- and good health-oriented setting of a medical office, getting the facts to parents might prove a powerful antidote to inexpert tirades they read online.
What can you do today to help spread the truth about HPV, cancer and the value of the vaccine?
We here at The Immunization Partnership are proud to be partners with IPVS to raise awareness on this important day.