Summer's Spotlight: incentivizing HPV vaccines

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, IN.-- ABC57 news is bringing back Summer's Spotlight.

Morning Anchor, Summer Horan, is going out into the community to share stories about the people, organizations, businesses, and ventures that make Michiana our home and one to be proud of.

This week, Summer caught up with Dr. Mark Fox, the St. Joe County Health Department's Deputy Health Officer, about a renewed push to get more community members vaccinated by utilizing its partnership with the South Bend Cubs.

What is HPV?

“HPV refers to the human papilloma virus, because there are 200 different types of human papilloma virus, but a couple of them in particular, are associated with the formation of cancer, most cervical cancers, oropharyngeal, cancers, and others, but they're preventable with this vaccine. So we often think about vaccine preventable illnesses like measles, mumps, things like that. This is actually a vaccine that will ultimately prevent cancer," says Dr. Fox.

Who is the health department trying to get to roll up their sleeves?

“HPV vaccine really is aimed at individuals who are aged nine to 26 years old. A few people over age 26 may benefit from it, but the big benefit is in, in younger people before they've had a lot of exposure to the virus," says Dr. Fox. "“If people start the HPV vaccine series before age 15, they only have to get two doses. If they start after age 15, they have to get three. So, we really are focused on the nine- to 12-year-old population that we're encouraging to get HPV vaccine to prevent cancer.”

How is the St. Joseph County Health Department incentivizing the community to get the vaccine?

“So we're really fortunate that the South Bend cubs have been a great partner to the Department of Health and a variety of different initiatives. But especially for this one, they've made some ticket vouchers available. So for people who initiate the HPV vaccine series this month, we'll be able to provide them to vouchers for tickets to a South Bend Cubs game," says Dr. Fox.

Was there something that came up that made you guys want to start incentivizing this or really what was that pinpoint start?”

“So our focus right now really is we're launching cancer prevention and control initiative in St. Joseph County. So we're trying to focus on what are the preventable cancers that we can improve outcomes with early diagnosis through screening, or in this case vaccination.

So in addition, we'll be focusing on pap smears, colorectal cancer, screening, mammography, all those preventable cancers, but this is one really focused on younger kids to get started on this immunization.

You know, we saw a lot of childhood immunizations drop off during the pandemic, because people weren't going to regular doctor's appointments. So we've spent a lot of the last two years trying to get kids caught up on their kind of school age vaccines," says Dr. Fox.

What's some of the pushback maybe the questions, the anxieties that you've heard from the community, maybe on why they don't want to have their children or themselves vaccinated?

“So one is certainly that it's, well, it's recommended by the Department of Education that's not required. And for some parents, it's like, I'll do what's required, but not more than that," says Dr. Fox.

The other pushback we get honestly is because human papilloma virus is transmitted through sexual activity. There's this misguided concern that this is kind of a license to be promiscuous. The data actually shows that people who start or complete the HPV vaccine series are not more likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior or early initiation of sexual activity. So it's a misguided fear that it seems to give a green light. What it does, is it's incredibly effective at preventing these cancers."

Sign up for your appointment, learn about the partnership, or educate yourself on HPV on the St. Joseph County Health Department's website.

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