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HPV Experts: Vaccine Needs a Makeover

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Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It can also cause cancer. There's currently vaccine available to prevent the infection and it's recommended for preteen girls and boys, but so far vaccination rates have not been high.

That's why a group of HPV experts from across the country met at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Thursday. They want to raise the rate of vaccination and hopefully prevent more people from developing cancer.

Dr. Otis Brawley is the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. He said there's been a widespread rejection of the vaccine in many parts of the United States because people consider it a moral issue rather than a way to prevent disease.

"We need to talk about changing the reputation of this vaccine to be a cancer vaccine versus an STD vaccine," he said.

According to Brawley, more than 80 percent of women over the age of 50 have been exposed to the virus. However, only about 30 percent of girls in the United States have taken all three doses of the vaccination.

Dr. Melinda Wharton, the director of the Immunization Services Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the key to raising vaccination rates is getting health care providers to strongly recommend it, but that many providers are not doing that.

"Unfortunately, I feel like that some pediatricians feel like, 'well, it may be important for some kids but not the kids in my practice, it's those other people,'" she said.

Wharton said that the CDC is focusing its efforts on boosting provider recommendations. She said that marketing campaigns, while not necessarily effective on the general public, could help providers feel more comfortable recommending the vaccine to parents. 

--Health News Florida intern Megan Milanese is part of WUSF Public Media in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Megan Milanese is an intern with WUSF’s health reporting project Health News Florida.