Local Health Officials Hope to Increase HPV Vaccination Rates

What if there were a miracle drug that could prevent a wide range of cancers, but people were not receiving it?

News Radio 1200 WOAI reports that's essentially the situation in Bexar County, where local vaccination rates with HPV vaccine are among the lowest in the state, with only about 33% of girls and just 20% of of boys getting the vaccine in their pre-teen years, when it is recommended.

Dr. Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, who heads the San Antonio Immunization Partnership says that is leading to an elevated incidence of several types of cancers.

"The HPV vaccine does prevent against nine strains that cause a number of different cancers," she said.

The Health Partnership is working with local physicians this week to try to spread the word of the impact the the ten year old HPV vaccination can have in protecting people from cancers later in life if it is administered when a child is 11 or 12 years old.

Dr. Rohr-Allegrini says one barrier to full use of this miracle drug is the fact that HPV, Human Papaloma Virus, is a sexually transmitted disease.  She says many parents, especially conservative Christian families, say providing young people with this vaccination as they enter puberty amounts to 'sanctioning sexual activity.'  

It was those concerns which ended up scrapping an attempt by former Gov. Rick Perry to include HPV among the vaccines which are mandatory for school attendance.

But Dr. Rohr-Allegrini disputes that claim.

"Its sort of like saying, if you tell people to wear seat belts, they are going to drive faster," she said.  "They are going to drive the way they are going to drive, and seat belts protect them."

She says HPV-related cancers 'are devastating and are preventable.'

She says the Immunization Partnership is also working with physicians to make them more confident about recommending the HPV vaccine.

"A lot of physicians aren't really comfortable about talking about this with their patients, and their patients' parents," she said.  "So we are here to give them the right information, and information they can share."

She says the goal is to raise the HPV vaccination level to 80%, and save a lot of young lives in the process.

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