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New efforts raise awareness about HPV vaccine for adolescents

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently announced a new effort to increase coverage rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among adolescents in the state.

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The plan includes a public awareness campaign geared toward families of adolescents, a direct mailing with vaccination reminders and education opportunities for health care providers.

The effort was made possible by a $600,000 grant awarded to the department by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following a competitive process, Minnesota was one of seven states and four cities to be awarded the funds.

The primary purpose of the HPV vaccine is to prevent cancer. The vaccine protects against the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer in women as well as several other types of cancers in men and women. The vaccine, given in a series of three shots, is recommended for adolescent girls and boys beginning at 11 years of age. It can be given at the same time as the vaccines that prevent whooping cough and meningococcal disease, as well as any other vaccines an adolescent may be due to receive.

Despite its cancer-fighting ability, the vaccine is greatly underused, health officials say. According to a 2012 survey, only 33.1 percent of young women in Minnesota had received the full three doses, mirroring the national rate of 33.4 percent, and slightly more than 59 percent of Minnesota girls had received the first dose.

Among teen boys, to whom the recommendation was more recently expanded, first-dose vaccine coverage was only 20.8 percent.

“Taking into account cervical cancer alone, if we could vaccinate 80 percent of young women in the U.S. today, we could prevent 98,800 cases of cancer and 31,700 deaths, according to CDC estimates,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for MDH.

The grant activities will complement the department’s efforts to inform parents and health care providers of new immunization requirements for school enrollment that take effect this fall, including Tdap and meningococcal vaccines for adolescents.

These activities also coincide with the Minnesota Cancer Alliance’s current initiative to promote HPV vaccine as a cancer prevention measure.

While HPV is not included in the new requirements, MDH strongly recommends that adolescents receive all three vaccines at the same time.

The HPV grant runs through December 31.