Matt Schorr
June 3, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Up to 93 percent of human papillomavirus (HPV) cancer cases are preventable with vaccines, and yet vaccination rates among adolescents remain low. Only 51 percent completed the recommended doses in 2018. In Tennessee, only 44 percent did.

“Trends demonstrate slow improvement over time,” Jennifer Cunningham Erves, PhD, MPH, MAEd, MS, CHES explained. “A major contributor is vaccine hesitancy, with nearly 1/3 of parents being HPV vaccine hesitant.”


Research project

Erves, who works in Meharry Medical College’s Department of Internal Medicine as an Assistant Professor, intends to address that issue through a research project. This work is funded through a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“The goal is to develop and pilot test an individually tailored, pre-visit health communication intervention targeting HPV vaccine hesitant parents,” she explained. “Based on my preliminary data, tailored, pre-visit education for HPV patients could increase acceptance, prevent parental anxiety, and reduce provider burden in clinic visits.”

The project, titled “A tailored, health communication intervention for HPV vaccine hesitant families,” began in June and will continue for four years.


Human Papillomavirus

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It’s usually harmless and clears on its own. Many with the disease have no symptoms and may not even realize they’re infected.

Certain types, however, can cause future health complications. At least a 14 are considered high-risk and can lead to cancer.

Although there’s no cure for HPV, vaccines can help prevent it.

Erves believes educating parents of adolescent patients, and tailoring that education to each parent, before they enter a doctor’s office is the key.


Looking ahead

“Results will serve as preliminary data for a subsequent grant proposal for a well-powered, multi-site randomized control trial,” she said. “This will promote my long-term career goal to become an independent public health researcher focused on cancer prevention through behavioral interventions.”


About the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Founded in 1999, the Alliance bridges the institutions of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Its mission is to enrich learning and advance clinical research in three primary areas -- community engagement, interprofessional education and research -- by developing and supporting mutually beneficial partnerships between Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the communities they serve. Through community engagement, the Alliance serves a large community of stakeholders including surrounding universities and colleges, community organizations, faith-based outlets and community health centers. Its interprofessional education enhances students' interdisciplinary understanding and improves patient outcomes through integrated care. The research conducted provides access to experienced grant writers and materials supporting the grant application process and facilitates grant-writing workshops.