Baby's checkup and a shot for mom

Oct 19, 2016, 10:12 AM by Christopher Smith Gonzalez
UTMB Nurse Latha Joy administers the HPV vaccine to patient Evelyn Perez while Dr. Abbey Berenson explains that a series of three injections is necessary for complete protection.
In the first months of a baby’s life, parents usually concentrate on their newborn’s health. But the postpartum period is also a good time for mom to catch up on an important vaccination for herself.

The many doctor’s visits needed for a newborn present a convenient way for mom to get all three shots of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Many young women are missing out on the HPV vaccine, which can prevent several kinds of cancer, including cervical cancer and throat cancer. Now, a nearly $1.5 million grant awarded to UTMB by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) will help young southeast Texas moms start and finish the HPV vaccine series.

With this new funding, a team led by Dr. Abbey Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health, will first reach out to women who are on the postpartum ward of John Sealy Hospital. Women who are 26 years old or younger will be eligible to get the first dose of the HPV vaccine before they go home with their newborn. Then, the second and third HPV vaccine shots will be scheduled with newborn checkups or other medical appointments.

Berenson’s team recently completed a pilot version of the program, which was available to women from Galveston County who delivered at UTMB. This initial program, also funded by CPRIT, was greatly successful. Before the program, only 26 percent of eligible women who delivered an infant at UTMB had received a dose of the HPV vaccine. Less than two years into the project, 81 percent had. The number of women who completed the three-dose vaccine series also grew, from 16 percent to 65 percent. Such a large proportion of HPV vaccine completers exceeds national averages. These results were described in a paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

While it may seem unusual for mom to get a shot at the pediatrician’s office, this method means that no separate doctor’s visits are added to mom’s busy schedule.

“The postpartum period is a great opportunity for catch-up vaccination,” Berenson said. “Moms are already likely to be interacting with the medical system many times. We should take advantage of that.”

Some 3,400 doses of the HPV vaccine have been delivered through the initial project, which was the only prevention project to receive expansion/continuation funding from CPRIT this round. The new funding will ensure these positive efforts continue and grow as all eligible women who deliver at UTMB will now have the opportunity to be involved.

Berenson hopes that the success of the postpartum projects will inspire other health systems to offer HPV vaccination services to postpartum mothers.

“The HPV vaccine is medicine’s first true cancer-preventing treatment,” she said. “We need to devise savvy solutions to ensuring all eligible patients receive it.”