The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston a $1.4 million grant to improve rates of human papillomavirus virus vaccination among local adolescents.

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.
For high resolution photographs click here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of girls and boys 13 to 17 years receiving the HPV vaccine remains unacceptably low in the United States.  This is true locally with a recent UTMB survey showing extremely low HPV vaccination rates in Galveston and Brazoria counties. Half the mothers with 9 to 17-year-old children responding to the survey had never even heard of the HPV vaccine.

Under the direction of Dr. Abbey Berenson, project director and professor in UTMB’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the new project should improve these rates. “Increasing HPV vaccination rates is a public health priority.  The more adolescents who are vaccinated now, the fewer who will suffer from HPV-related cancers, like cervical cancer, in the future,” says Berenson.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, with up to 80 percent of women acquiring an infection at some point in their lives.  The virus causes several types of cancer, and is estimated to be responsible for almost all cervical cancers.

While the HPV vaccine prevents various forms of cancer, many health care providers avoid discussing this vaccine with parents until their child is older than the recommended age of 11 to 12, , because discussions about its protection against a sexually transmitted infection can be awkward.  Berenson aims to address these issues with a multi-pronged approach that includes provider education and use of patient navigators to assist families with initiating and completing the three-dose HPV series.  The patient navigators will work to identify families seeking care in UTMB pediatric clinics with children who have not received the HPV vaccine. 

The program also plans to increase vaccination rates through collaboration with Teen Health Centers Inc. which has school clinics in several middle and high schools in Galveston County.  There will be a total of five Teen Health Centers participating in Galveston, Hitchcock and Texas City.

“I am delighted to receive funding for this new cancer prevention project as it will allow us to assist families who have  eligible children obtain and complete the HPV vaccine,” says Berenson.  “There is a strong need to improve coverage across our region, including Galveston County.”

Agencies participating in the project include the Brazoria County Health Department and the Galveston County Health District.  Others collaborating with the project include UTMB’s Richard Rupp, Kwabena Sarpong, Mahbubur Rahman and Jacqueline Hirth.