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HPV Vaccination Communication Messages, Messengers, and Messaging Strategies

Abstract

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes over 39,000 cancers annually in the US. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective but underutilized to prevent cancer. In the US, only 37% of adolescents ages 13–17 have received the full vaccine series. Ineffective messages and misinformation about the vaccine have negatively impacted its uptake in the US. It was initially only approved for girls and early marketing focused on cervical cancer prevention and prevention of HPV as a sexually transmitted infection. Understanding effective messages and methods of dissemination is critical to address suboptimal vaccine uptake. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 34 participants to identify best practices for HPV vaccination messaging in SC. Participants included state leaders representing public health, medical associations, K-12 public schools, universities, insurers, and cancer advocacy organizations. Recommended HPV vaccine messages included focusing on cancer prevention rather than sexual transmission, routinizing the vaccine, and highlighting risks/costs of HPV. Targeting messages to specific demographics and utilizing multiple media platforms to disseminate consistent, scientifically accurate messages were recommended. Strategies such as appealing to parents’ moral responsibility to protect their children against cancer and addressing the ubiquity of HPV and sharing growing evidence that HPV may be transmitted independent of sexual activity were also recommended. Suggested HPV vaccine messengers included trusted peers, medical professionals, and health associations. Culture-centered narratives to raise the voices of cancer survivors and parents were also recommended. This study provides an array of HPV vaccination messages and dissemination strategies for optimizing HPV vaccination rates.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the leaders across the state of South Carolina who generously gave of their time to participate in interviews.

Funding

This project was funded by the National Cancer Institute through grant no. 3P30CA138313-06S2.

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Correspondence to Kathleen B. Cartmell.

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Cartmell, K.B., Mzik, C.R., Sundstrom, B.L. et al. HPV Vaccination Communication Messages, Messengers, and Messaging Strategies. J Canc Educ 34, 1014–1023 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-018-1405-x

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Keywords

  • HPV vaccination
  • HPV-related cancers
  • Communication
  • Environmental scan
  • Evaluation
  • Implementation