Alabama’s HPV-Related Cancer Rate Unusually Varies By County

Gardasil 9 vaccine protects against 9 of more than 150 HPV strains

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A new study shows that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates in Alabama are highest in counties with high incidence rates of HPV-related cancer. 

HPV is a very common virus. Nearly 80 million people are currently infected in the United States. 

“The higher the rate of cancer in the county, the higher the rate of vaccination,” said Jennifer Young Pierce, MD, MPH, USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, in a press release. 

“We drilled down the data to the county level to see what’s associated with this,” said Dr. Pierce. 

This study presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer aimed to discover reasons behind the wide variance of HPV vaccination rates throughout Alabama, where the cervical cancer incidence rate ranges from 33 percent to 66 percent, depending upon the county. 

Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 32 are considered rural and 40 suffer from poverty levels below the state average. 

The study’s authors expected to see lower HPV vaccine uptake in Alabama’s rural counties, which would be consistent with CDC reports. Instead, the data showed little difference in HPV vaccine uptake between metro and rural areas or affluent and impoverished counties. 

The 7 counties with the highest HPV vaccine uptake, in fact, were all rural areas with above-average poverty rates. 

“It was exactly the opposite of what we expected,” said Pierce. 

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“In the rest of the country, there’s an urban/rural disparity, an 11-point difference between rural and urban vaccine uptake, and we do not see that in Alabama. 

The study yielded other unpredicted results. 

The data showed:

  • a strong link between higher HPV vaccine uptake among residents receiving government-funded healthcare, and,
  • the highest HPV vaccine rates in some of the 23 counties without a single pediatrician. 

The main takeaway from the study, said Dr. Pierce, is that perception of high cancer risk overcomes traditional disparities, such as income level, location, type of healthcare insurance that can affect HPV vaccine uptake.

The HPV vaccine protects against several types of cancer in both males and females, including cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and head and neck. 

The Gardasil 9 vaccine protects against 9 of the most cancer-associated strains of HPV, though there are over 100 strains of HPV with possible adverse effects.     

Gardasil 9 is available at select clinics and pharmacies in the USA.