Understanding obstacles to HPV vaccination

Deanna Teoh team

Each year in the United States, human papillomavirus (HPV) causes about 31,000 new cases of cancer, including cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, anal cancers, and others. The HPV vaccine has decreased the prevalence of genital warts and high-grade cervical dysplasia, a precursor to cancer, by 90 percent in regions with high vaccination rates.

But vaccination initiation rates hover around 60 percent and completion rates at 49 percent both nationally and in Minnesota.

Deanna TeohDeanna Teoh, M.D., M.S., part of the U’s obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health faculty, is dedicated to understanding how parents, guardians, and adolescents make decisions about the HPV vaccine. With support from Minnesota Masonic Charities, she is finding answers.

“By eradicating HPV infection, we have the potential to drastically decrease HPV-related cancer risk for both males and females,” Teoh says.

Teoh’s study was conducted at the 2018 State Fair and included 405 participants. Of these, 74 percent had vaccinated or planned to vaccinate their adolescents, and 13 percent did not.

“Non-vaccinators were more likely to underestimate the risk of HPV-related cancers and overestimate the risk of vaccine-related side effects,” she said. “They were also more confident in their ability to prevent HPV infection without vaccination, and less confident in the vaccine's ability to prevent infection.”  

According to Teoh, the study shows the need for additional education. She and her team plan to administer another survey by social media to see if their findings are similar in a broader audience outside the state.

“Hopefully my work and the work of others will result in the eventual eradication of HPV-related cancers. I have received a number of Minnesota Masonic Charities grants over the years, and this funding has allowed me to collect the preliminary data I need to apply for larger grants.”


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