Brittany Rosen, Ph.D, CHES
With the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine receiving much media attention in past years, there is talk about who should get the vaccine and what it prevents. Obviously, it prevents HPV, but what most people do not know is the vaccine helps protect against genital warts and cancer of the cervix, penis, vagina, and throat. More than 6,800 people die from these cancers every year. Unfortunately, with all these health benefits, few people are getting the vaccine. Since the HPV vaccine was approved in 2006 (for girls) and 2009 (for boys), only 53% of girls between 13 and 17 years old have been vaccinated with the first of the three required shots. Furthermore, only 35% of teen girls and 8% of teen boys have received all three shots.
Why are so few teens getting the HPV vaccine? Some researchers would suggest a lack of good information about the vaccine from doctors, parents’ worries about teens’ increased sexual activity, individuals’ concerns about side effects, or lack of trust in those recommending the vaccine.
Many public health officials believe that if parents have the right information from trusted individuals (e.g., school nurses) then parents are more likely to accept the vaccine for their child. Students and parents generally trust school nurses to give reliable medical information. Therefore, school nurses connect medical doctors with school communities and might even be considered by some parents and students as an “opinion leader” for medical issues such as the HPV vaccine. For this article, we define opinion leader as someone whom other people listen to and trust.
The idea that school nurses transport information can easily be seen when we look at schools that employ nurses and have higher vaccination rates in general. Being the link between the medical and school communities, there is a need to perceive school nurses as opinion leaders to increase HPV vaccination rates in youth. However, there is no research on school nurses and the HPV vaccine. Thus, there is a huge need for a study to examine what school nurses know and think about the HPV vaccine. There is also much value in knowing whether they are teaching parents and students about the HPV vaccine, in order to increase HPV vaccination rates in youth and decrease the cancers and deaths caused by HPV.
For further readings related to this topic:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). HPV vaccines. Retrieved April 30, 2012 from http:www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html
Council on School Health. (2008). The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement: The role of the school nurse in providing school health services. Journal of School Nursing, 24(5), 269-274. http://jsn.sagepub.com/content/24/5/269.full.pdf+html