HPV vaccination rates for teenage girls have been highest in the nation's poorest communities and in predominantly Hispanic communities, according to a new study led by researchers at Temple University and Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Two vaccines that prevent infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) are on the market and are recommended for boys and girls at age 11 or 12. But to the dismay of public health authorities, vaccination rates remain relatively low, even though the shots can prevent cervical cancer and some rarer cancers of the genitals, anus, head, and neck.

The new study analyzed data for 20,565 girls ages 13 to 17. The data was collected in 2011 and 2012 by a national government-funded survey.

About 61 percent of girls in the poorest communities received at least one shot of the three-shot vaccine, compared with 52 percent in the most affluent communities.  About 69 percent of girls in predominantly Hispanic communities got at least one shot, compared with 49 percent of girls in communities that were mostly white or mostly African-American.

These findings – which are consistent with previous studies -- may seem contrary to "conventional beliefs that socioeconomic disadvantage" is a barrier to healthcare, wrote the researchers, led by Temple University geography professor Kevin A. Henry.  But the higher rates may reflect the fact that publicly funded programs provide free vaccines to low-income families.

Aside from race and ethnicity, "the lower HPV vaccine uptake in …affluent communities could be attributable to barriers related to out-of-pocket expenses, a lack of physician recommendation, or infrequent preventive medicine visits. Furthermore, parents in …affluent communities may be less supportive of the HPV vaccine," the researchers wrote in the current issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The researchers conclude that public health officials should try to get a better understanding of these geographic and "contextual" factors to increase vaccination rates.


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