Boston Medical Center awarded grant to improve HPV vaccination rates through … – Boston.com

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 80 million people in the country are currently infected with the virus. And each year, 17,600 women and 9,300 men get HPV-related cancer.

The problem, according to Rebecca Perkins, a physician in obstetrics and gynecology at Boston Medical Center, is that kids aren’t getting vaccinated quite early enough at the recommended ages of 11 or 12, and some kids who may start the series of shots, don’t finish all three doses.

Perkins is the lead researcher for a Boston Medical Center education-based pilot program that was able to increase HPV vaccination rates among boys and girls at two community health centers by educating physicians about the vaccine and providing them with training to more effectively communicate with patients and parents about the vaccine’s importance.

A separate study, published last week, found the biggest barrier to increasing vaccination rates for HPV was doctors not providing patients with the recommendation.

“It’s important because HPV vaccination rates are still below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80 percent completed vaccinations,” Perkins said. “And the reason that this matters is because we’ve already seen that HPV vaccinations in countries that have very high rates have started to decrease rates of, not only genital warts but more importantly, cervical dysplasia, which is a precursor to cervical cancer in women.”

Earlier this month, the American Cancer Society awarded Boston Medical Center a $1.04 million grant to expand the pilot program to four other community health centers over the next three years.

As part of the program, physicians are given the rates of HPV vaccinations for their practice—how many kids started and how many kids finished the series. Perkins said they receive education on the importance of the vaccination and how to communicate with parents who may seem unsure or have questions.

Rebecca Perkins

“They’re also going to receive training in a technique called motivational interviewing, which helps them talk to parents who might be hesitant about vaccines,” she said.

That aspect of the pilot is going to be expanded in the new program starting next year, since the training could be useful not just for talking to parents about the HPV vaccine, but for other vaccines as well.

Perkins said the health centers then will go through the same “quality improvement” cycles from the pilot to address any systemic issues providers may have related to helping patients complete the entire series.

Perkins has been working to get the grant since 2013. The expanded program will start rolling out in the spring, with each of the community health centers starting at a time.

Providers, she said, are “pretty well aware now” about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer and generally want to get girls vaccinated.

But she said there is a gap when it comes to boys—for boys the vaccine isn’t just an altruistic choice to protect their future partner, according to Perkins.

“There is still lack of knowledge about the benefit to boys,” she said. “HPV causes about 75 percent of head and neck cancers and that’s something that’s been changing a lot recently—the amount of HPV related head and neck cancers has doubled over the past two decades. And it’s something that pediatricians never see, so it’s not something they’re necessarily aware of—that connection.”

One barrier that Perkins expects to be removed is doctor’s having to check a patient’s insurance to see it would cover the vaccine, since Massachusetts just got universal status for HPV vaccinations, meaning the state provides the vaccines for all kids under 18, regardless of their insurance.