HPV Prevention in High School: A Guest Blog
Paul and Claire are juniors at Nathan Hale. Paul initially got involved when his mom asked him if he would support her in a public health panel sponsored by the Group Health Foundation, which focused on HPV awareness. Paul recruited Claire for the effort too, and their remarks were so well-received that after the panel discussion they were approached by public health nurse Lauren Greenfield from Public Health–Seattle & King County about an HPV campaign to be launched at six Seattle public schools, including Nathan Hale. Their history with this brilliant project is detailed below. Enjoy! -Todd
When we both agreed to be a part of this campaign (to spread awareness about the importance of HPV vaccine at Nathan Hale and get students immunized at the teen health center), we had no idea what to expect. But despite that, we both said yes for the same reason: we realized that this campaign was a way for us to help and have a positive impact on our community. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) cancers and disease have affected the lives of many people and will continue to if nothing is done, and if immunization rates in our state remain low. People have been looking for a cure for cancer for a long time, and the thought of finding one seems impossible. But what people don’t realize is we have something even better than that. We have a way to PREVENT cancer. And it’s right at our fingertips. The HPV vaccine is of great importance because it has the ability to save thousands of lives from future cancers. And our job is to make sure that people, especially our peers, understand this.
When we started the campaign, there was no plan to work off of, no template or outline of what we were supposed to do. We were basically winging it. At our first meeting with our advisor, she asked us, “What are your ideas? What do you guys want to do?” This was one of the best features of the opportunity; it was up to us to come up with ideas on how to run a successful campaign, and it was our ideas that mattered the most. This campaign taught us many important skills, including leadership organizational skills. Running into many obstacles, we’ve learned to be persistent in our goals. The biggest challenge, though, was always juggling this on top of schoolwork, sports, and other activities we do outside of school—especially since it was just the two of us.
As for the future of the campaign, we have high hopes and many plans. We plan to continue running the campaign at Nathan Hale, and this year hope to create an HPV Awareness Club at our school. The club will not only educate people on the topic, but also the group can help with certain projects throughout the year that are part of the campaign. We also hope to get speaking time at an assembly this year, and maybe do a schoolwide HPV awareness week. And of course, our goal every year is that more and more people at our school get vaccinated. Finally, as a more widespread goal, we hope students at other schools around the state take on the challenge that we have and raise awareness about HPV, and the vaccine that prevents certain HPV cancers and disease, at their schools.
It’s wonderful to see young people getting involved and speaking up for the health of their peers. Many thanks to Paul and Claire for their great work!
Partnering to prevent HPV
Using the extensive immunization network of WithinReach, our cutting-edge work surrounding HPV promotion, and our depth of knowledge in vaccine hesitancy issues, WithinReach staff review all funded proposals with an eye towards:
- Connecting grantees to existing resources that will further their projects
- Eliminating duplication of efforts
- Creating partnerships between organizations with aligned goals
- Encouraging organizations to attend our HPV Task Force or other immunization committees in the state
When WithinReach launched the HPV Task Force in 2015, we learned that many organizations were developing HPV initiatives, but there had been little communication between organizations, largely because there was no venue to do so and because HPV vaccination brings together organizations from seemingly disparate fields: immunization, cancer prevention, sexual health, and adolescent medicine to name a few. Having the HPV Task Force–and now the assurance that these organizations are collaborating–will make Washington a leader in HPV vaccination.
Here’s an example of an early success: Planned Parenthood wanted to pioneer an electronic signature process to easily obtain permission from parents to give their children the HPV vaccine. WithinReach has long known that Public Health – Seattle & King County successfully uses a service called DocuSign for this very purpose. By putting the two organizations in contact, Planned Parenthood was able to mobilize quickly and follow an existing blueprint to make this service available. Another success? All GHF grant-funded organizations are routinely meeting as a group outside of the HPV Task Force because they have found informal conversations about sharing resources and ideas helpful and productive.
And if you need a reminder of why the HPV vaccine is important, here are the pertinent details: All cases of cervical cancer, and a large percentage of other genital and anal cancers/warts and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers are caused by the HPV. The latest HPV vaccine protects girls from 90% of the strains that cause cervical cancer. Cervical cancer takes the lives of over 4,000 American women annually, and inflicts untold sickness and suffering on many more. The vaccine can virtually eliminate morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer.
WithinReach has been working with community partners for over 25 years to not just address health issues facing our community, but to actually create lasting change. Partnerships like this one with the Group Health Foundation are essential to that goal.
Fighting health inequities, one shot at a time
Did you know that Latina women in the US are over 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than non-Latinas and, once diagnosed, 1.5 times more likely to die from cervical cancer? To us at WithinReach, inequities like this are unacceptable.
Some of the factors that contribute to this inequity include lack of access to quality care, making Latinas less likely to get regular Pap smears, more likely to have more advanced cervical disease when they are screened, and less likely to receive follow-up care after diagnosis. Without a doubt, Latinas need better access to care and better quality of care when they do have access. But to get to one root of the problem, we need to prevent cervical cancer in the first place. Fortunately, we have a very effective way to do so: the HPV vaccine.
That’s why it’s disturbing to us that Latino parents are less likely to report that their provider recommended the HPV vaccine for their child(ren). Among a group of Latino parents in Yakima, 87% said that they would get their daughter vaccinated if their doctor recommended it, but only 46% had actually ever been offered the HPV vaccine!
We’re working to change that through a project offering targeted training to providers and staff in clinics that serve Latino families in western Washington. We talk about why the HPV vaccine is so important, how to make an effective recommendation, and how to have respectful and helpful conversations with parents about it. Luckily, we found a great partner for this work in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Inspired by its Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) launched a Community Health Improvement Grant program to addresses specific cancer screening, early detection, and prevention needs for at risk populations in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. Designed to build sustainable collaborations with Washington communities, SCCA selected seven local nonprofit organizations to receive funds in 2015, including WithinReach.
Finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning that the HPV vaccine prevents many different cancers that are caused by the human papillomavirus in both men and women, including cancers of the anus, oropharynx (throat area), and genitals. No one wants those diseases for their children. That’s why it’s important for both boys and girls to be immunized! And for providers out there interested in the latest on HPV immunization recommendations and how to navigate conversations with families, check out our free online CEU course.