Have you been vaccinated against HPV? If you’re like most young Hoosiers, you’re probably not sure how to answer that question. Many students at IUPUI don’t know what HPV is, let alone that there’s a three-dose vaccine they should be receiving to protect themselves against it. This isn’t surprising when you consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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.
So, what is HPV? HPV is the abbreviation for Human Papillomavirus. The virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection – so common that, according to the CDC, nearly everyone will get it at some point in their lives. It is spread skin-to-skin through intimate encounters.
The infection is commonly without symptoms, and it can even be passed on when no symptoms are occurring. HPV often goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t, it can cause genital warts and even cancer in various parts of the body. Cervical cancer is most often linked to HPV, but many people don’t know that HPV-related head and neck cancer is on the rise in both men and women. In short, many Hoosiers are not educated on an infection that is both extremely common and known to cause cancer.
But there is hope. The HPV vaccine, which requires three doses, is approved for ages 9 to 26, putting many IUPUI students within the window of opportunity. This makes college students the perfect target for an initiative to improve HPV vaccination rates.
This initiative, led by Indiana University M.D./MPH student Katheryn Hannaford, Campus Health director Dr. Stephen Wintermeyer, health communication professor Katharine Head and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Cynthia Robbins, is trying to change the culture of HPV vaccination at IUPUI by educating students about the risks of this infection and encouraging them to get vaccinated.
This project has been supported by many partners, including 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, perhaps most importantly, various IUPUI student leaders and groups who have provided invaluable feedback on the development of this campaign.
The initiative is using posters, presentations and other forms of marketing to empower students to take control of their own health; these materials are all aimed to educate students about HPV and the HPV vaccine. But that’s just phase one of the campaign. As part of the project, getting vaccinated through IUPUI Student/Campus Health is free to every IUPUI student that falls into the recommended age group. Students can get vaccinated at either the Campus Center location of Student Health or at the main location in Coleman Hall at 1140 W. Michigan St. “A lot of people don’t realize that this is actually one of the best vaccines we have in our arsenal,” 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.”
For those students who aren’t sure whether they’ve been vaccinated or don’t know if they have finished the necessary three doses, there is a solution. Providers at Campus Health can help students sign up for MyVaxIndiana, which is 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. Providers will also be trained to have discussions with students about the importance of the vaccine and help them make informed decisions about their health.
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. No more excuses for missing your shots!
Those involved hope that the effects of this project don’t stop there. “One of the things that’s been at the heart of this entire initiative is that we are trying to empower these college students to make an informed choice. And so every aspect of the campaign is meant to really educate them and make them aware of – and understand the importance of – this disease and this vaccine,” Head said.
Empowering, indeed. So remember: Getting vaccinated on campus is free and doesn’t require an appointment. Take control of your health and get vaccinated today!