More Than 25% Of Virginians Unaware Of Preventative Cancer Vaccine

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2006 file photo, a doctor holds a vial of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil in his Chicago office. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

By Amie Knowles

April 19, 2022

Vaccine awareness decreased for males, people living in urban areas, and those making less than $50,000.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—If there was a vaccine that could prevent cancer, would you take it? 

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that such a vaccine actually exists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is estimated to cause nearly 36,500 cases of cancer in men and women every year in the United States, and HPV vaccination can prevent 33,700 of those cancers by preventing the infections that cause them.

The bad news? A new study conducted by the University of Virginia (UVA) Cancer Center and Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Massey Cancer Center found that more than 25% of Virginians were unaware of the lifesaving HPV vaccine.

Here’s What The Study Found

Two researchers from UVA: Rajesh Balkrishnan and Mythili Vigneshwar, and three from VCU: Sunny Jung Kim, Carrie Miller, and Bernard Fuemmeler, collaborated on the study. They surveyed almost 1,500 people across the commonwealth in an effort to determine whether there were associations between vaccine awareness and respondents’ sex, race, age, place of residence, education level, income, job status, and health insurance. 

The researchers ultimately discovered vaccine awareness decreased for males, people living in urban areas, and those making between $35,000 to $49,999 a year, compared to the next nearly $50,000 bracket. 

If a person had a part-time job, was younger in age, or received a higher education, they were more likely to be aware of the HPV vaccine. 

The study also found that awareness did not necessarily translate to people getting the vaccine. In 2016,  approximately 41% of Virginia girls and 37% of boys ages 13 to 17 were up-to-date on their HPV vaccines. In 2021, Dogwood reported that among teens during the pandemic, HPV vaccinations dropped by 75%. From March 2020 to June 2021 teens with public insurance missed an estimated 1 million doses. 

“Increased knowledge and use of the HPV vaccine is crucial in reducing the spread of the virus and associated cancer risk in Virginia,” Balkrishnan said in a UVA Health press release. “And knowledge is only the first step to increasing HPV vaccination rates. We need policies to prioritize the uptake of this vaccine in all Virginia teens.” 

Where To Find Vaccines

Before taking any vaccine, you may choose to talk to your healthcare provider. That’s also a great springboard to learn about the available vaccination options in your area. Oftentimes, the doctor’s office will be able to provide the immunization, but other places also offer doses as well and it could be worth checking into for convenience’s sake.

For example, the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available both within and outside of doctor’s offices as manufacturing numbers rose. Virginians received doses at community vaccination centers, from mobile units, at pharmacies, and in Pittsylvania County, even at Dollar General stores and a McDonald’s location thanks to creative offerings from the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District. 

COVID vaccines and boosters aren’t the only shots available outside of the doctor’s office. Places like CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens regularly offer free flu shots with most insurance to those interested. 

This month, the LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau Health Districts will be offering free school required vaccinations at various locations throughout both districts. Appointments are required for all clinics offered by the two health districts.

For students entering the seventh and 12th grades, some vaccines are required. Students entering the seventh grade must receive the Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (Tdap) booster, as well as the first dose of the Meningococcal Conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine. Students entering 12th grade need to get the second MenACWY vaccine. The health districts are also offering the HPV vaccine at the sites, the first dose of which should be administered before the start of the seventh grade, but can also be denied by the child’s parent or guardian after reviewing educational materials approved by the Board of Health.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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