Parent’s Willingness to Vaccinate Child Against HPV Often Depends on Doctor’s Pitch, Study Finds

Parent’s Willingness to Vaccinate Child Against HPV Often Depends on Doctor’s Pitch, Study Finds

The choice of words used by doctors use while recommending a child be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) can influence whether parents will agree or not, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Teri Malo, from the University of North Carolina, and colleagues reported in the study, “Messages to Motivate Human Papillomavirus Vaccination: National Studies of Parents and Physicians,” that parents are most receptive to messages about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, as well as about the cancers it prevents.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that boys and girls receive HPV vaccination, which occurs in three doses, starting at age 11 or 12. However, only 42 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had completed the HPV vaccine series as of 2015.

To investigate whether the way doctors convey the recommendation for this vaccine influences a parent’s decision, researchers presented nine long messages from the CDC and six brief messages created by the team, all of them designed to convince adults of the benefits of HPV vaccination, to more than 1,500 parents. The messages were also shown to 776 primary care doctors.

Three of the brief messages and eight of the longer ones were supported by at least half of the parents, and some parents who had initially manifested against the vaccine said that at least one message would change their minds.

Most parents said they would be convinced by messages about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, and the role of the parents in preventing their children from being infected by HPV and developing HPV-related cancers. In fact, the most persuasive messages included: “I strongly believe in the importance of this cancer-preventing vaccine for [child’s name]” or “[Child’s name] can get cervical cancer as an adult, but you can stop that right now. The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical cancers.”

One example of a non-persuasive message was, “Would you wait until [child’s name] is in a car accident before you tell him to wear a seatbelt?”

Researchers asked the doctors to consider the six brief messages only, and asked them whether they would use such messages to persuade parents to allow their children to receive the HPV vaccine. The team found that doctors preferred messages that emphasized the fact that the vaccine can prevent cancer (64 percent).

Many parents choose not to vaccinate their children due to lack of information or concerns about safety, or because the recommendation from their doctor was not strong enough, the researchers said.

“Each of these concerns can be addressed by talking with a [healthcare] provider, and so it’s important to understand what drives parents’ hesitation so that we can help improve provider communication to decrease hesitancy about HPV vaccine,” Malo said in a news release. “This finding really highlights the important role that parent-provider communication can play in increasing HPV vaccination.”

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