Stephanie Staras, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes & Policy, received a 2-year, $371,550 Developmental R21 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to fund her research on methods for increasing rates of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among adolescents in Florida.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is so prevalent that nearly all sexually active men and women will contract it at some point in their lives. Although most HPV infections are self-limiting and cause few—if any—symptoms, certain strains of HPV infections have been linked to a sharply increased risk of cervical and other cancers. And while vaccines now are available to prevent the most common and dangerous forms of HPV, Staras says vaccination rates for youths in Florida are alarmingly low.
“HPV causes cancer among Americans every 20 minutes, but just under a third of girls and one-fifth of boys in Florida have received all three doses of the HPV vaccine,” said Staras, who cited 2014 statistics from the CDC. According to the CDC, 57 percent of girls in Florida ages 13 to 17 had received the first dose of the three-dose HPV vaccine regimen. Only 29 percent of girls had received all three doses. Florida boys ages 13 to 17 fared even worse: Only 41 percent had received the first dose, and just 18 percent had completed the series.
The type of grant Staras received is intended to encourage innovative research in the early and conceptual stages of projects. Staras plans to use the grant to enhance, implement, and evaluate an in-clinic health information technology (HIT) system she and her research team have developed to improve HPV vaccine rates among Florida youths.
Staras’ research approach to increasing HPV vaccine rates engages parents and physicians in the HIT system. Staras’ HIT system aims to identify due vaccinations and help prepare HPV vaccine-hesitant parents to discuss the HPV vaccine with their doctor. The HIT system gauges their level of interest and concerns about the vaccine. Based on each parent’s concerns, the system provides information to help them understand the issues important to them. Before meeting with the patient, providers are alerted of due vaccines, parent interest, and parent concerns. To aid the conversation, providers also receive issue-specific discussion tips. By easing parent concerns and saving provider time, the HIT system holds significant promise to reduce missed clinical opportunities and improve vaccination rates.
In Staras’ preliminary work, funded by the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine in 2012, a version of the HIT system targeted at teens was associated with a 50 percent increase in the percentage of girls who started the vaccination series and a 40 percent increase in the percentage of boys who received the first vaccine.