By EMILY KIM (COL ‘19)
The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, along with numerous other cancer and public health centers in D.C., continuously emphasize the promotion of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among healthcare providers. The vaccine, was, after all, developed on Georgetown soil in the 1990s under the direction of professor of pathology Dr. Richard Schlegel.
Yet, while the likelihood that young people will obtain vaccination is strongly linked to the encouragement that they receive from their physicians, education remains essentially useless if an individual does not have the means to obtain the three considerably expensive rounds of shots that make up the vaccine.
According to research conducted by R. Asgary and colleagues and reported in “Human Papillomavirus Knowledge and Attitude among Homeless Women of New York City Shelters,” over 40% of participants in the study didn’t even know what HPV was. After being educated on the subject, 65.4% reported that they would vaccinate their eligible daughters for HPV. Clearly, education is imperative to improving HPV vaccination rates in our nation’s capital. However, more efforts should also be taken to provide greater accessibility to the vaccine for those who but do not have the economical means to.
A quick internet search of health clinics in D.C. shows that HPV costs $250/shot, — quite a hefty price tag for those who wish to vaccinate themselves or their children. Many D.C. inhabitants do not have regular access to medical care, and to top things off, D.C. boasts one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country. While education is important, more efforts should be funneled into services that offer free HPV vaccination, like the Health Outreach for Youth and Adults (HOYA) Clinic, a Georgetown student-driven initiative located at D.C. General Family Shelter.
HPV is a very serious health concern — 70% of cervical cancers, as well as penile and anal cancer, are caused by the virus. Yet about 40% of adolescent girls and 60% of adolescent boys have still not been vaccinated today. Such low vaccination rates have caused Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, along with 68 other cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to issue a joint statement urging increased vaccination against HPV.
The statement outlines the team’s goal to send a powerful message emphasizing the imperativeness of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention to parents, adolescents and health care providers. Moreover, outreach efforts to improve D.C. vaccination rates, have been in full effect under the leadership of Dr. Sherrie Walligan. She and Georgetown University’s Health Disparities Initiative aim to educate parents, adolescents and physicians in the city about the importance of HPV vaccination.
Through a combination of education and supporting free clinics, Lombardi and the CDC will be able to fulfill their aim to increase the rate of HPV vaccination and diminish the prevalence of cervical and other HPV-related cancers in the American population.