Mar 01, 2019 8:00 AM


Deanna Kepka, PhD
Deanna Kepka, PhD

The year 2018 brought good news regarding the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which prevents HPV-related cancers of the cervix, anus, throat, and other genital cancers. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported HPV vaccination rates increased five percentage points nationally and seven percentage points in Utah over the previous year. In October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the HPV vaccine for a wider age group—27–45. Previously, the vaccine was approved only for those ages 9–26.

Despite the good news, HPV vaccination rates still lag far behind other recommended vaccines, and Utah has one of the lowest rates in the nation. Only about 34 percent of Utah adolescents have completed the vaccine series, compared to the national average of 50 percent. Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is joining forces with experts across the country to change those statistics.

Deanna Kepka, PhD, HCI investigator and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Utah, leads the Intermountain West HPV Vaccination Coalition. This diverse group of more than 400 scientists, public health experts, physicians, and others in the Mountain West is working to improve the region's HPV vaccination rates. In June 2018, HCI hosted distinguished HPV experts from the nation's top cancer centers, along with partners from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the CDC, and the American Cancer Society, to share research and discuss intervention strategies for improving HPV vaccination.

a large group of meeting attendees stand outside huntsman cancer institute

According to HCI research, barriers to HPV vaccination include a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and a lack of knowledge among parents. Initiatives include educating primary care physicians and pediatricians and raising public awareness through outreach events, conferences, social media, and other methods.

"HPV vaccination is cancer prevention," says Dr. Kepka. "As researchers, providers, and public health experts, it is our moral imperative to join forces to educate parents, guardians, and colleagues about the importance and benefits of HPV vaccination."

Learn more: huntsmancancer.org/hpv-coalition

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