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Sex Talk Didn't Help HPV Vaccine

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Mary Shedden/WUSF
Dr. Anne Schuchat, left, stands next to a poster promoting HPV vaccination. The poster and other education materials were created by USF Public Health graduate students.

Florida lags behind the rest of the country in vaccinating children for the human papillomavirus. 

Part of the problem started eight years ago, when the HPV vaccine was introduced as a way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection that researchers knew was a major cause of cervical cancer and other disease.

But the shots are recommended for 11- and 12-year-old children. And talking about a vaccine tied to sexual activity made some parents and pediatricians squirm.

"There certainly was a lot of talk about sex at the beginning of the rollout, and I think that harmed the HPV vaccine uptake," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, immunization director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Credit CDC
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of immunization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“We really think that it's important to stress that this is a cancer-prevention vaccine and that's why we are recommending it routinely for boys and girls."

Schuchat came to Tampa Tuesday supporting a new HPV education campaign, created by University of South Florida public health students. It will be seen across Tampa Bay during back-to-school season.

USF doctoral student Laura Murrell said the campaign is focused on cancer prevention. Specifically, it encourages parents to add HPV with two other mainstream vaccinations introduced in the pre-teen years, such as the Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap) and the Meningococcal vaccine.

Vaccinating children at that age is the best way to reduce the risk of cancers in their adult years, Murrell said.

"It's offered for 11- and 12-year olds because we don't expect them or we don't want them to be involved in sexual activity during that time,” she said. “But it's best for them to be vaccinated during that time because they have the best immune response at that period."

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Reporter Mary Shedden at (813) 974-8636, on Twitter @MaryShedden, or email at shedden@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.