According to a new study by University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago researchers, the majority of girls and young women don't believe the HPV vaccine protects them against other sexually transmitted infections.
Dr. Rachel Caskey, assistant professor of pediatrics and general internal medicine at UIC and lead author of the study, said that the findings are reassuring in that girls and young women don't think that the vaccine provide benefits beyond protecting them from HPV.
"We also found that they did not think that they could stop cervical cancer screening, or pap smears, which is critical," Caskey added.
For the study, researchers used a national sample, representative of the U.S. population, to conduct an online survey of more than 1,000 females ages 13 to 26.
The data provide some of the first nationally representative estimates of both adolescents' and young women's adoption of the HPV vaccine, barriers to vaccination, and sources of information about HPV and the HPV vaccine, according to the researchers.
Knowledge about the HPV virus itself ran the gamut, said Caskey. Some people knew absolutely nothing and a few people were moderately informed. Knowledge about the HPV vaccine, however, was better.
"Messages about the vaccine are getting across, though they are not including messages about the virus itself," said Caskey.
The HPV vaccine is likely to provide the greatest benefit to those who receive it prior to HPV exposure, but nearly 30 percent of the unvaccinated girls reported not getting the vaccine because they were not currently sexually active.
The study found that the respondents' primary source of information about the HPV vaccine was advertisements for the vaccine, marketed as Gardasil (61 percent), healthcare providers (35 percent) and family members (31 percent).
It is probably ideal when family and doctors can be the primary providers of information, said Caskey, but that is not realistic today due to the influence of the media.
"Many girls are realizing, 'this is a vaccine I should get, it prevents cervical cancer, it doesn't protect me from other things, but I don't really know much about the virus,'" said Caskey.
The study appears online and in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.