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Education

Campaign targets Florida’s low rate of HPV vaccinations

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Published:   |   Updated: July 1, 2014 at 09:21 AM

— The numbers are disappointing to health activists: Florida has the lowest rate for vaccination against HPV in the nation. Meantime, the state has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer.

“I’ve known for a while that HPV vaccination rates were very low in Florida, but when I found out we were the lowest, I just thought that was horrible,” said Taylor Caragan, a graduate student in public health at the University of South Florida. “I am a proponent for all vaccines. I’m wondering why parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against cancer.”

On Monday, Caragan joined U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, and about a dozen public health officials to launch a campaign to get the word out about the vaccine for human papillomavirus and improve the state’s numbers.

The HPV vaccine, given as a series of three shots over six months, protects against HPV infection and also against cervical cancers in women and other cancers in both sexes.

“We haven’t found the cure for cancer, but if you can get three shots to prevent cervical cancer, that’s revolutionary,” Castor said.

The congresswoman brought the health professionals to a BayCare Medical Group office on West Swann Avenue and was joined by representatives of the Moffitt Cancer Center, USF Health, clinics and individual doctors.

They said they would lobby in health centers and on social media, appear at events, talk to people and use social and traditional media to get people vaccinated.

On Saturday, an opinion piece by Anna Guiliano, director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt, and a colleague ran in the Tampa Tribune’s Views section.

“There’s one bottom line here: We have an unprecedented opportunity to prevent multiple cancers with one vaccine,” Guiliano said at Monday’s event. “This is an opportunity we’ve all been waiting for, which is to prevent cancer very simply and efficiently. We need to take that opportunity here in Florida and in Hillsborough County. We don’t want to be the last ones to benefit from this vaccine.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 get vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males and females if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.

Participants on Monday said they will fight a stigma that has sprung up around the vaccine as protection against a sexually transmitted infection and instead treat it as a traditional vaccine.

Human papillomavirus lives in the body and usually causes no symptoms, but some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women, and oropharynx and other cancers in males.

Florida’s cervical cancer rate is 8.2 per 100,000 women, according to the CDC. Hillsborough County’s rate is 9.5, while Pinellas’ is 7.4.

The U.S. average is 7.5.

Florida has the lowest rate of female adolescents receiving all three doses of the vaccination – just 25 percent.

Jacqueline McLaughlin, head of obstetrics and gynecology for Tampa Family Health Centers, said her organization will participate in the awareness campaign.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get on board and educate our providers as well as our patients in making sure they understand the importance of this vaccine,” she said.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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