Results from two studies recently published in the Journal of Community Health and the American Journal of Public Health showed that older adolescents who visit gynecologists and other non-pediatric physicians have the lowest vaccination rates of all adolescents, approximately 5%. This is in contrast with older adolescents who visited pediatricians, who had a vaccination rate of 40%.
The study conducted by a team of Rutgers researchers wants to help pediatric physicians to develop a plan to improve the low rate of Newark-area adolescents who are vaccinated against sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). The condition is a well established risk factor for different types of cancers.
“Adolescent patients treated by pediatricians consistently have higher HPV vaccination initiation rates than adolescents treated by other specialists,” said Rula Btoush, associate professor at the School of Nursing, who leads a collaborative team that includes researchers from the School of Public Health.
While the vaccine is free, the researchers found that only 27.45% of adolescents aged between 10 and 20 years who live in the Newark area initiate the three-dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
“Low-income black and Hispanic adolescents represent the population at highest risk for HPV-related cancers, particularly cervical cancer,” said Btoush. “The vaccination rates in Newark are much lower than in the rest of the country. We need to educate providers and help them develop the skills to inform and assist mothers in the decision-making process regarding the vaccination of their adolescent children.”
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New Jersey area has the fourth-lowest rate of HPV vaccination for girls.
These recent results showed that in the Newark and surrounding neighbourhoods, vaccination initiation was higher for males than for females (31.5% versus 24.8%, respectively). This was also the case when researchers compared black adolescents with Hispanics (29.6% versus 25.4%, respectively). Furthermore, cervical cancer rate morbidity in Greater Newark is two times higher than in New Jersey, which had the 10th highest rate of cervical cancer morbidity between 2006 and 2010.
Based on these statistics, the team designed a campaign to raise awareness on the importance of vaccination and has began to collaborate with local pediatricians to design effective strategies to communicate to adolescents about HPV’s risks. The team is also working on the most effective strategy to approach non-pediatric professionals on how to approach their adolescent patients.
Results from this new study further revealed 5% of the vaccination rate to be a frightful situation for adolescents aged between 16-and 20 years who receive healthcare from non-pediatricians. “This indicates the importance not only of pediatric health care providers in improving HPV vaccination but also the critical need to educate and involve non-pediatric providers in efforts to promote HPV vaccination,” the researchers said.
The team will also work on the best way to raise parents’ awareness on vaccine misperceptions, as results from the study showed that some parents are unaware that both boys and girls are vulnerable to HPV and that the vaccine is free.
The plan is expected to be implemented late this fall, and Btoush and her colleagues are considering to use telephone calls as a strategy to remind adolescents on their upcoming HPV vaccination appointments.
In comparison to New Jersey, vaccine initiation rates among adolescents in New York City are of 58.0% and of 80.3% in Philadelphia. While HPV vaccination is not mandatory in these two cities, both have successfully implemented programs with the aim to improve HPV vaccination rates. “Our research is motivating us to keep going,” said Btoush. “We want to protect the most vulnerable and make sure these kids have a better future.”