Give It a Shot

Researchers Seek to Encourage HPV Vaccination Among African-Americans
by Sala Levin ’10 | Illustration by Jason Keisling

A new five-year study at UMD looks to find ways for health professionals to effectively encourage African-American parents to get their children vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes a high rate of cervical cancer among black women.

Xiaoli Nan, professor of communication science, Cheryl Holt and Min Qi Wang, professors of behavioral and community health, and researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how different messages can influence parents’ decision-making.

“The key thing we want to look at is the framing aspect of the message—whether it focuses on the benefits of vaccination, or the costs of not vaccinating children,” Nan says.

Partnering with clinics in Baltimore, principal investigator Nan and her team will create an iPad presentation in which parents view messages about the HPV vaccine, then take a survey about their intentions to vaccinate. Nan and the team will follow up at three months, six months and a year to see whether the children have been vaccinated.

HPV is the nation’s most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often, it goes away by itself without complications, but it can cause a variety of cancers. A 2017 CDC report found that African-American adults had higher rates of HPV than people of European or Hispanic descent.

African-Americans are also less likely to get vaccines for adult illnesses such as the flu and pneumonia. Some studies have suggested that this might be partly due to historic medical abuses of black people.

Add the fact that HPV is transmitted sexually for an extra dose of hesitancy.

“Parents fear that once they get vaccinated, they might become more sexually active,” says Nan.

The interdisciplinary team hopes that effectively communicating about the HPV vaccine will lead to better health outcomes. “Increasing HPV vaccination rates is a priority in public health,” says Holt. “We don’t get a lot of opportunities to prevent cancer.”


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