Updated
September 13th, 2019

A Small Texas County Takes the Cancer Prevention Lead

Gardasil 9 HPV cancer prevention vaccine is endorsed for people up to 45 years of age

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The state of Texas has been slow to embrace a 2-dose vaccine that helps prevent 90 percent of cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Texas ranks near the bottom for HPV vaccinations in the USA, 44th of 50 states.

But, that low ranking may soon change for the better in North Texas. 

An educational campaign is underway to increase HPV vaccinations in the motivated Denton County, with 860,000 residents. 

"Anything we can do to reduce vaccine hesitancy will increase the percentage of children that have been vaccinated," said Dr. Matt Richardson, director of the Denton County Public Health, in a KERA News article.

"And that can only be a good thing 20 years from now for people who don't have cancer, and we're excited about that." 

“The database shows that 53 percent of Denton County eligible children — 13 to 17 — initiated the series, but only 31 percent completed the HPV vaccination series. That means, we have a long way to go." 

“Parent’s hesitance to allow children to get vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) may be attributed to its association with sexual activity as it is transmitted through any form of sexual contact with a person that has the virus’, said Maegan Whisenhunt, Pharmacy Intern with Brookshires Grocery Company.  

“Pharmacists can play a crucial role in having discussions with patients who express this concern. Vaccinating before becoming sexually active provides the most benefit in preventing the cancers associated with HPV”.

The American Cancer Society says "Mission: HPV Cancer Free Texas" will target preteens through focused outreach to healthcare providers and parents about the health benefits of the Gardasil 9 vaccine.   

"The conversation, especially in seventh grade, beginning about the importance of prevention can be difficult, but this is the age where we recommend that they do start discussing with kids risk, and that can be a hard conversation.” 

But it's important — prevention, talking about how your health can be linked to behaviors and how to protect yourself." 

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“This campaign obviously wants to educate providers and really train them on influencing parents to make this decision of cancer prevention."

Another tactic to improve HPV vaccination rates is to include pharmacies.

Previous research found that ‘enhancing pharmacists ability to provide patients with vaccination services can meaningfully reduce access, cost, and trust barriers.’

Additionally, ‘patients could save time, money and live healthier lives if state and federal laws were reformed to empower pharmacists to administer cancer-prevention vaccines.’

HPV news

HPV is the world's most prevalent sexually transmitted infection and is associated with life-threatening cancers including cancers of the cervix, anus, penis, vagina, vulva, mouth and throat, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Around 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are HPV-related.

There are 2 categories of HPVs -- low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer, and high-risk HPVs, which can cause cancer, says the Texas State Department of Health Services.   

In most cases, HPV infections go away on their own and do not cause any health problems. But if a high-risk HPV infection persists for many years, it can cause cell changes that progress to cancer. 

The Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine is available to all uninsured or underinsured boys and girls in Texas between the ages of 9 and 18 through the Texas Vaccines for Children program. 

This 3-year $4.6 million dollar HPV vaccine awareness project is funded by Dallas philanthropist Lyda Hill.