Ms. Katheryn Hannaford, MD/MPH student at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health – Indianapolis, is leading a new campaign initiative for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) awareness and prevention. This initiative, also led by Campus Health director Dr. Stephen Wintermeyer, health communication professor Dr. Katharine Head and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Cynthia Robbins, seeks to change the culture of HPV vaccination at IUPUI by educating students about the risks of this infection and encouraging them to get vaccinated.
The virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection — so common that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly everyone will get it at some point in their lives. Yet, also according to the CDC, Indiana is 45th in the country for first dose of the HPV vaccine in 13-to-17-year-olds, and 51st in the country for first dose of the vaccine in 13-to-17-year-old males. While HPV often goes away on its own, when it doesn’t, it can cause genital warts and even cancer in various parts of the body.
One phase of the campaign involves using posters, presentations and other forms of marketing to empower students to take control of their own health with the aim of educating students about HPV and the HPV vaccine. The other phase of the campaign, supported by IUPUI Student/Campus Health, is providing free HPV vaccinations to every IUPUI student that falls into the recommended age group. The HPV vaccine, which requires three doses, is approved for ages 9 to 26, putting many IUPUI students within the window of opportunity.
“Many aren’t aware of the dangers of HPV or the dangers of not being vaccinated,” said Ms. Hannaford during an interview with Fox59 News. However, in just one week after launching the campaign, health providers say they are already seeing an impact. “We’ve had plenty of students come in asking to get the vaccine, and plenty that aren’t really aware of what it does,” said nurse practitioner Ms. Leesa Foley in the interview.
For those students who aren’t sure whether they’ve been vaccinated or don’t know if they have finished the necessary three doses, providers at Campus Health are helping students sign up for MyVaxIndiana, the statewide vaccination registry. Because it’s mandatory for vaccinations to be logged for every Indiana citizen under the age of 18, it’s easy for students to see their own vaccination records and know whether they need the HPV vaccine.
“A lot of people don’t realize that this is actually one of the best vaccines we have in our arsenal,” Ms. Hannaford said. “It’s over 90 percent effective at preventing HPV-related cancers and HPV-related warts. And over 10 years of research have shown it to be incredibly safe.”
Finally, because the HPV vaccine requires three doses, the last phase of the project will focus on signing up students for text message alerts when they’re ready to receive their next dose.
This project is supported by the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health, the Indiana Immunization Coalition, the IU Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, IUPUI campus leadership, and various IUPUI student leaders and groups.
Ms. Hannaford told Fox59 that ultimately the goal is to get as many students educated and vaccinated as possible. The initiative is planned to continue until the fall, and if successful, Ms. Hannaford says she hopes to bring the program to other schools across the state and country.