How much do medical providers really know about HPV vaccines?

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ccThe goal of a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health was to provide more information about the factors that affect the delivery of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, as well as the level of knowledge of health providers related to these vaccines. The study focused on the bivalent (HPV2) and quadrivalent (HPV4) vaccines, which are both designed to prevent the human papillomavirus infection, but have different components and indications. The HPV2 is known as Gardasil and was licensed by Merck in 2007; the HPV4 is Cervarix, marketed by GlaxoSmithkline since 2009.

Both vaccines are used for the prevention of the cancer-causing HPV subtype 16 and 18; HPV4 has additional indications for the prevention of genital warts and anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers. The CDC recommends that girls and women aged 9-26 years be immunized with either HPV vaccine. However, immunization of males with the HPV4 vaccine is not routinely recommended.

The results of the study were based on a survey sent out via listserv to health care providers whose patient load was focused on adolescents. The study had four sections, gathering information on demographics of health providers, years in practice, HPV and HPV vaccine knowledge, as well as patient demographics.

As one might expect, knowledge of the different HPV vaccines increased with number of years in practice as well as practicing in a hospital setting. It was also related to the proportion of female patients seen by a provider. Overall, the study demonstrated that providers of adolescent medicine in particular are knowledgeable about HPV, and the HPV vaccine.

Health care providers were split into two groups based on their time in practice, the less experienced group had zero to ten years of experience, and the more experienced had ten or more years. When it comes to knowing which vaccines address warts, 72% of less experienced providers were knowledgeable, compared to 85% of more experienced providers. For knowledge of which vaccines addressed cervical cancer, the percentages were 80% and 91%, respectively.

The study also revealed beneficial medical practices taking place amongst those who responded to the survey. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices changed their recommendations recently, pushing universal, routine HPV vaccination of males. But encouragingly, 84% of providers taking care of adolescents who responded to the survey reported routinely offering HPV vaccines to male patients even before the recommendations changed.