Shot in the Arm: Jewish Healthcare Foundation raising HPV awareness | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Shot in the Arm: Jewish Healthcare Foundation raising HPV awareness

"Parents are not willing to consider the sexuality of their 10- or 12-year-old."

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"The connection between HPV and cervical cancer has been clear for longer than connections between HPV and cancers that are associated with boys," says Finkelstein. "Once it became clear that HPV was the cause of many of those, it became more obvious it was important to immunize boys."

The JHF is also seeking to increase vaccinations among vulnerable populations like African-American women, who are less likely to be vaccinated and more likely to die from cervical cancer. In 2013, Duke Medicine's Dr. Adriana Vidal and her colleagues released the results of a study focusing on HPV rates in this population.

"The motivation was: Even though the screening for cervical cancer is similar for African-American and white women, there is a difference between incidence and mortality, so we wanted to find out why there was a disparity," Vidal says.

While the study made a number of findings regarding incidence and mortality, it also found that black women are more likely to be infected with less common strains of HPV. They are more likely to acquire strains of HPV not covered by current HPV vaccines.

"African-American women were less likely to be infected with HPV strains 16 and 18," which are covered by the vaccine, Vidal says. "We're not saying, 'No, the vaccines are not good for them,' but we're saying there should be more attention for strains beyond 16 and 18."

A new vaccine is currently undergoing a round of clinical trials. It will protect against nine strains of HPV, including two of those most common among black women.

As another part of its campaign, the JHF has formed a group of grandmothers to do community outreach in an effort to break down some of the stigma associated with talking to children about sexually transmitted infections. One participant, Sheila Fine, says she recently talked to her grandchildren about the HPV vaccine on a family vacation.

"We shouldn't be afraid to talk about this," Fine said at a recent meeting of the grandmothers group. "We're talking about saving lives."

Despite progress on the issue, there is still a segment of the American population that is against vaccines, believing they are harmful to children. Organizations like A Shot of Truth, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that questions whether there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, say the dangers of the HPV vaccine outweigh the documented benefits.

But according to Gottlieb, an eight-year CDC study of 1 million individuals who have been vaccinated found only one major side effect: post-injection syncope, or fainting.

A Shot of Truth also questions the efficacy of the HPV vaccine in preventing cancer. "A myth reported consistently by the media is the HPV vaccine is a 'cancer-prevention vaccine,'" says the campaign. "There has never been any scientific data to qualify this statement, as the vaccine was never studied long enough to show it indeed prevents cancer."

Gottlieb disagrees.

"It's a very safe vaccine," Gottlieb says. "We're saying there's a vaccine that prevents cancer. Why wouldn't you get it for your child?"

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