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Making one key connection may increase HPV vax uptake



The understanding that human papillomavirus (HPV) causes oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) has been linked with increased likelihood of adults having been vaccinated for HPV, new research indicates.

In a study published online in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, most of the 288 adults surveyed with validated questions were not aware that HPV causes OPSCC and had not been told of the relationship by their health care provider.

Researchers found that when participants knew about the relationship between HPV infection and OPSCC they were more than three times as likely to be vaccinated (odds ratio, 3.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.8-7.6) as those without the knowledge.

The survey was paired with a novel point-of-care adult vaccination program within an otolaryngology clinic.

“Targeted education aimed at unvaccinated adults establishing the relationship between HPV infection and OPSCC, paired with point-of-care vaccination, may be an innovative strategy for increasing HPV vaccination rates in adults,” write the authors, led by Jacob C. Bloom, MD, with the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Boston Medical Center.

Current HPV vaccination recommendations include three parts:

  • Routine vaccination at age 11 or 12 years
  • Catch-up vaccination at ages 13-26 years if not adequately vaccinated
  • Shared clinical decision-making in adults aged 27-45 years if the vaccine series has not been completed.

Despite proven efficacy and safety of the HPV vaccine, vaccination rates are low for adults. Although 75% of adolescents aged 13-17 years have initiated the HPV vaccine, recent studies show only 16% of U.S. men aged 18-21 years have received at least 1 dose of the HPV vaccine, the authors write.

Christiana Zhang, MD, with the division of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was not part of the study, said she was not surprised by the lack of knowledge about the HPV-OPSCC link.

Patients are often counseled on the relationship between HPV and genital warts or anogenital cancers like cervical cancer, she says, but there is less patient education surrounding the relationship between HPV and oropharyngeal cancers.

She says she does counsel patients on the link with OPSCC, but not all providers do and provider knowledge in general surrounding HPV is low.

“Research has shown that knowledge and confidence among health care providers surrounding HPV vaccination is generally low, and this corresponds with a low vaccination recommendation rate,” she says.

She adds, “Patient education on HPV infection and its relationship with OPSCC, paired with point-of-care vaccination for qualifying patients, is a great approach.”

But the education needs to go beyond patients, she says.

“Given the important role that health care providers play in vaccine uptake, I think further efforts are needed to educate providers on HPV vaccination as well,” she says.

The study included patients aged 18-45 years who sought routine outpatient care at the otolaryngology clinic at Boston Medical Center from Sept. 1, 2020, to May 19, 2021.

Limitations of this study include studying a population from a single otolaryngology clinic in an urban, academic medical center. The population was more racially and ethnically diverse than the U.S. population with 60.3% identifying as racial and ethnic minorities. Gender and educational levels were also not reflective of U.S. demographics as half (50.8%) of the participants had a college degree or higher and 58.3% were women.

Dr. Bloom reports grants from the American Head and Neck Cancer Society during the conduct of the study. Coauthor Dr. Faden reports personal fees from Merck, Neotic, Focus, BMS, Chrystalis Biomedical Advisors, and Guidepoint; receiving nonfinancial support from BostonGene and Predicine; and receiving grants from Calico outside the submitted work. Dr. Zhang reports no relevant financial relationships.

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