Last week federal health officials said too few teenagers are protected against the human papillomavirus. But it turns out that Philadelphia — and a handful of other locations — are doing better than the nation.
About 59 percent of teen girls in Philadelphia have gotten all three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. In contrast, the U.S. average is 22 percent.
The virus, which is spread through sex and intimate contact, can lead to cancer later in life. Doctors first worried about HPV’s connection to cervical cancer in women; now, they are also documenting many cases of HPV-related head and neck cancers in men.
The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls before they become sexually active. The government suggests that children be vaccinated at age 11 or 12, but the reality is, lots of kids don’t get their first shot until high school.
“The biggest predictor of whether an adolescent receives HPV vaccine is if there is a strong recommendation from the child’s own physician or health care provider,” said Caroline Johnson, director of Philadelphia’s Division of Disease Control.
Last year, Philadelphia used federal grant money to train 500 doctors, nurses and other health care providers across the city. They learned new ways to talk about the vaccine with families and to focus on the fact that it is a cancer prevention vaccine.
“The parent comes in and the physician will say, ‘Now I’m going to give your child the measles vaccine,’ and there’s not a lot of debate and a lot of discussion about that,” Johnson said. “But when it comes to an adolescent age group, sometimes the providers were a little more hesitant, and say, ‘Well, would you like your child to have the HPV vaccine?'”
In September 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the Philadelphia Department of Public Health $500,000 to improve vaccine coverage.