Northwest Indiana hospitals, clinics aim to increase HPV vaccination rates - March 16, 2018

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

Written by Giles Bruce

Northwest Indiana hospitals and clinics are trying to increase the number of Region kids who get the HPV vaccine.

“It’s a vaccine that prevents cancer,” said Dr. Ashley Kirkwood, an OB-GYN specialist with the LaPorte Physician Network.

The immunization protects against several strains of HPV, or the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical and other cancers.

“One of the problems it can cause is genital warts, cervical cancer and vaginal cancers,” said Dr. Faiqa Mohyuddin, pediatrician with NorthShore Health Centers. “In men, it can cause anal cancer and penile cancer. HPV also causes some head and neck cancers.”

Gail Magsaysay, an oncologist nurse navigator with Methodist Hospitals, noted there are 14 million new infections per year in the U.S. HPV is the most common STD, affecting an estimated 80 percent of sexually active Americans.

People with the infection can develop warts, but oftentimes it’s asymptomatic, Magsaysay said.

It also can cause cancers of the throat, mouth and vulva.

Magsaysay said she was initially skeptical of the vaccine.

“I’m a holistic nurse. I like to do things naturally,” she said. “Not until I did the research did I become convinced.”

She noted that some states require the HPV vaccine in order for kids to attend school, but Indiana isn’t one of them.

‘A vaccine to prevent cancer’

“This is about cancer prevention,” said Rachelle Anthony, who works with Indiana hospitals on behalf of the American Cancer Society. “The message we want to get to the community is there is a vaccine to prevent cancer.”

The effort comes in the state with one of the lowest rates in the country of HPV vaccination. In Indiana, 43.5 percent of 13- to 17-year-old girls and 24.7 percent of boys in that age group have gotten the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ranking 37th and 46th, respectively, in the U.S.

Nationally, 49.5 percent of girls and 37.5 percent of boys have received the vaccine.

For that reason, Magsaysay and Methodist Hospitals have been trying to teach the medical community about the importance of the vaccine. The hospital system has been hosting education sessions for physicians, nurses (including school nurses), pharmacists and pharmacy techs in recent months.

Dr. Lisa Gold, a pediatrician with Franciscan Alliance, said that before the vaccine came out, her office was seeing a disturbing number of young women with abnormal pap smears, including cervical cancer.

“Studies are showing that the incidence of cervical cancer in young women who had the vaccine decreased,” she said. “It had an impact on the number of cervical cancer cases in the United States.”

Gold said some parents are concerned that the vaccine will promote sexual activity. But several studies have found that is not the case, she noted.

“If a doctor just spends some time speaking to parents about the benefits of the vaccine and the rare minor side effects, we can, the majority of the time, change their mind about saying no,” she said.

A ubiquitous virus

LaPorte Hospital also has been attempting to increase rates of HPV vaccination.

“We did an initial assessment to see what the vaccination rates were — they’re not good,” Kirkwood said. “Overall vaccination rates for HPV are unacceptably low at the moment. We’re not even vaccinating half our kids for this.”

A committee at the hospital set out to change that, through direct mail advertising, video screenings and providing educational materials at doctors’ offices.

“HPV is ubiquitous,” Kirkwood said. “Almost everyone is going to have it at some point. We want to prevent kids from getting it before they’re exposed.”

She noted that the CDC estimates that increasing vaccination coverage to 80 percent would prevent 53,000 cases of cervical cancer.

Kirkwood has been trying to convince her patients who haven’t yet been vaccinated to get the series of shots.

“A strong physician endorsement is one of the best ways to convince people to get it,” she said.

She noted that 60 million doses have been given worldwide, and so far there have been no known adverse reactions. The only side effects, she said, are soreness, redness and low-grade fever.

“We feel pretty confident recommending it,” Kirkwood said.