TAMPA — Parents soon may see back-to-school checklists that include not only backpacks and notebooks but also vaccinations to prevent the cancer-causing human papillomavirus.
The HPV Action and Awareness Coalition, led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and University of South Florida officials Tuesday unveiled a local public health campaign aimed at increasing the state's lagging immunization rate.
Tied to the start of school, the campaign includes brochures that will be distributed at local school fairs and doctors offices.
Florida ranks second-worst in the nation for HPV vaccination rates, with only about 25 percent of female adolescents age 13 to 17 having received all three doses of the vaccination.
HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection, can cause several types of cancer, including cervical cancer and cancers of the throat and mouth. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for those 11 to 26 years old, but it is most effective at ages 11 to 12. The vaccine was originally marketed to girls, but now health professionals and the CDC recommend boys get it, too.
Because HPV is sexually transmitted, some parents have feared that getting the vaccination may encourage sexual activity at a young age. But Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said it's not just parents who have overlooked the HPV shots.
Many pediatricians may have failed to make the vaccination a priority for their young patients because HPV isn't something they would treat, she said.
Now there is "an opportunity for us to mainstream the vaccine," said Schuchat, who appeared at an event Tuesday at USF Health's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.
Castor said the new campaign has sent out hundreds of letters to pediatricians and health centers reminding them that the HPV vaccination should be a routine part of what they recommend to adolescents.