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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Study Identifies Most Persuasive Messages for Parents Considering HPV Vaccine

Researchers have identified which messages are most likely to motivate parents to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for their children. Among the parents surveyed, 65 percent said this brief message would be effective if delivered by a physician: “I strongly believe in the importance of this cancer-preventing vaccine for [child’s name].”

“Providers have a lot to talk about during medical visits,” said Dr. Noel Brewer, associate professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and senior author of the study. “Brief, memorable and persuasive statements about the HPV vaccine can improve parent-provider communication.”

[Photo: Dr. Noel Brewer (right) and Dr. Teri Malo]

The full findings from the study are available in an article titled, “Messages to Motivate Human Papillomavirus Vaccination: National Studies of Parents and Physicians,” published online September 30 in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Lead author Dr. Teri Malo, postdoctoral research associate at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, works with Dr. Brewer in the department of health behavior at the Gillings School. Dr. Brewer also is a member of UNC Lineberger.

Their research goal was to identify which messages had the best likelihood of encouraging parents to consider HPV vaccination for their children. The messages used in the study were selected from nine longer messages developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and six brief messages developed by the study team.

As physician communication about the vaccine has been noted as crucial to its acceptance, the investigators surveyed a national sample of 776 primary care physicians as well as a sample of 1,504 parents of adolescents ages 11 to 17.

Physicians read a selection of messages and indicated whether they would feel comfortable using each statement to encourage parents to get the HPV vaccine for an 11- to 12-year-old child. Parents read a series of messages and reported whether each one, when delivered by a physician, would persuade them to get the HPV vaccine for their own adolescent child.

Among parents who reported that they were disinclined to vaccinate, the most convincing messages were those that focused on the parents’ role in preventing their child from acquiring HPV-related cancers and those that emphasized the parents’ role in whether their child becomes infected with HPV.

Sample messages included, “[Child’s name] can get cervical cancer as an adult, but you can stop that right now. The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical cancers,” (which was highly persuasive) and, “Would you wait until [child’s name] is in a car accident before you tell him to wear a seatbelt?” (which was not very persuasive).

“Longer statements developed by the CDC performed very well with parents,” Dr. Brewer explained. “It is helpful for providers to know that the CDC is promoting high-quality and effective communication materials for them to use.”

Parental endorsement of the messages did not vary significantly by race/ethnicity, education level or the age/sex of their children, suggesting that the same highly ranked messages can be used across demographic subgroups.

Ultimately, the findings support physicians’ use of specific messages to help motivate parents to consider the HPV vaccine. As of 2015 in the United States, only 42 percent of females and 28 percent of males ages 13 to 17 had received all three doses in the cancer-preventing vaccine series, despite national guidelines for routine administration.