Pediatricians in Appalachia are less likely to recommend the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to their patients, according to a study.
Janice Raup Krieger, an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State, conducted the study of the shot, which can potentially prevent cervical cancer.
Krieger was first interested in conducting the study because women in Appalachia have high rates of cervical cancer.
Krieger also said the mortality rates from cervical cancer are higher in this area.
“The effectiveness of the shot depends on young girls actually getting it,” Krieger said. “We know from the literature that one of the reasons parents say that they do vaccinate their daughters against HPV is because their pediatrician recommends it.”
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection with more than 40 types that can infect both males and females. Certain types of the STI can lead to genital warts and different forms of cancer, but the body’s immune system fights off most types in two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Through a mail survey of 334 pediatricians in Kentucky and West Virginia, the research found women in Appalachia had 41.7 percent greater cervical cancer mortality rates than women living in non-Appalachia Ohio from 2000 to 2004.
The study did not investigate why pediatricians might not be recommending the shot. Krieger said the next step in her research is to find out why the differences exist and what measures can be taken to reduce them.
Dr. Elise Berlan, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said she recommends the vaccine to all of her patients, both males and females, starting at age 11.
“If you look at adults in this country who are sexually experienced, at least 80 percent of them showed that they had HPV exposure in their lifetime,” Berlan said.
The shot is recommended before sexual activity commences but the shot can still be effective after, Berlan said.
“What we do know about the vaccine is that it’s tremendously safe and very effective,” Berlan said. “It’s effective against types six and 11 of HPV, which cause genital warts. And it’s also effective against 16 and 18, which cause cervical dysplasia that is a precursor to cervical cancer.”
Kelly O’Brien, a second-year in journalism, agreed that the vaccine is very important for people to receive and patients should know their options.
“The shot should be distributed if they have medical findings that adults who are sexually active are diagnosed with HPV,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think everyone should have to get it, but I don’t think doctors should recommend against it.”
Berlan said she strongly encourages her patients to receive the shot even though they might experience some soreness at the injection site after.
“What I usually tell parents is that this vaccine is safe and it’s effective against cervical cancer,” Berlan said. “The benefits vastly outweigh the risks of this vaccine.”
Krieger said the responsibility lies with health care professionals telling parents and patients about the potential life-saving benefits of the vaccine.
Last month, Republican presidential candidates disagreed on an issue involving the vaccine. U.S Representative Michele Bachmann criticized Gov. Rick Perry for mandating the vaccine be issued to all sixth grade girls. Bachmann said the vaccine was potentially dangerous.
Krieger said it is most important for people to be informed.
“It’s important that patients understand their risks and are aware of all their options for protecting their health,” Krieger said. “It’s important for the health professionals to make parents aware that those options exist.”