Parents learn about HPV vaccine mostly from drug company ads, study says

February 25, 2009
Dr. Noel Brewer

Dr. Noel Brewer

Parents and other caretakers of young women learned about human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine primarily from advertisements sponsored by the pharmaceutical company that makes the vaccine, a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows. Noel Brewer, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior and health education, is senior author of the paper.

In the study, published in the February issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, researchers from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center interviewed a sample of parents of girls aged 10 to 18 years old in areas of North Carolina with high rates of cervical cancer. Parents were asked whether they knew a vaccine against HPV is now available and how they heard of it.

HPV infection, which causes genital warts, cervical cancer and other cancers, can be prevented by the new vaccine.

“While regular screening prevents cervical cancer, gaps in our health-care system cause thousands of women to die from cervical cancer every year,” Brewer said. “Our goal was to assess how parents are getting information about HPV vaccine to make sure they are getting the message about cervical cancer prevention.”

The researchers found that 82 percent of parents had heard of HPV vaccine, which is twice as many as previous studies had shown. News coverage of HPV was high around the FDA’s approval of the first vaccine in 2006, which accounted for some awareness.

However, the survey also found that the primary way parents heard of the vaccine was through pharmaceutical company ads. In all, 83 percent of parents had heard of it this way.

“Drug companies are the de facto health educators for the nation on HPV vaccine,” said Brewer. “We need to make sure the public is getting balanced information about the vaccine so they can make informed decisions for their daughters.”

The study also found differences in who had heard of the vaccine. Only 68 percent of African-Americans had heard of it, compared to 87 percent of whites. This was due, in part, to African-Americans having heard about it less often through drug company ads.

Parents who had heard of the vaccine were more likely to have had their daughters vaccinated. Researchers also found that while ads and news coverage might have provided initial awareness of the vaccine, most people said they would go to health-care providers and to the Internet for additional information.

Jessica Hughes, MPH

Jessica Hughes, MPH

The paper was authored by UNC public health graduate student Jessica Hughes. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Jennifer Smith

Dr. Jennifer Smith

Other study team members include Joan R. Cates, PhD, a lecturer in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Nicole Liddon, PhD, and Sami L. Gottlieb, MD, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.; and Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, research assistant professor of epidemiology in the UNC public health school and a member of the Lineberger Center.

 

For more information, visit: http://www.unc.edu/~ntbrewer/hpv.htm.

Note: Brewer can be reached at (919) 966-3282 or ntb1@unc.edu.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.