Boston Medical Center Receives $1 Million Grant to Improve HPV Vaccination

The pilot program aims to improve communication between patients and doctors.

Boston Medical Center (BMC) received a roughly $1 million grant from the American Cancer Society (ACS) for its pilot program focused on educating youth about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.

HPV is an extremely common STD that can also lead to cancer, but HPV vaccination rates are typically low, likely due to controversy about the shot’s efficacy and safety. Nonetheless, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s official recommendation is that all children age 11 or 12 get the vaccine—and BMC is trying to make that happen.

After conducting 600 interviews with patients, parents, and doctors about reservations surrounding the shot, BMC created a pilot program aimed at improving HPV-related communication and education between pediatric physicians and their patients. “We found that communication is one of the primary drivers [for children to] get the vaccine,” says Rebecca Perkins, the study’s principal investigator and a physician in obstetrics and gynecology at BMC.

Perkins says the most effective recommendation method is what BMC calls a “same day, same way” approach. “If a child comes in one day and needs a vaccine, we suggest to the parents that they get all three [suggested immunizations] at once—HPV, meningitis, and tetanus—and then it becomes a normal part of the routine,” she says. Using this method, she says, children would receive the vaccine as much as 70 to 80 percent of the time.

Next, the program will introduce “motivational interviewing,” which Perkins says will help sway the remaining percentage of hesitant families. By discussing HPV with parents in a non-confrontational way, she says, doctors can often steer them away from an ambivalent stance. Perkins notes that similar methods are often used in substance-related interventions.

Pilot sites already using the education program have seen 60 percent higher vaccination rates than control facilities. The ACS grant will expand BMC’s pilot program to five more local health centers, where the same methods will be tested for efficacy within a larger and more diverse population.