NCI-funded project aims to increase HPV vaccine coverage in rural Oregon

A map showing how HPV vaccination coverage in Oregon varies by county.

A safe and effective vaccine to prevent cancers caused by human papillomavirus became available more than 10 years ago, yet today less than half of Oregon teenagers complete the series of shots recommended for 13- to 17-year-olds. And that coverage looks even worse when examined by geography. Rates of completed vaccination in rural Oregon counties were as low as 16 percent for teen girls and 6 percent for teen boys as of May 2016 (the map above shows the rate of three-dose completion for teen girls and boys combined).

OHSU researchers are aiming to improve HPV vaccination rates by exploring the unique reasons for high and low uptake in adjacent rural areas. “We want to understand both the barriers to vaccination and also the factors that may be informing and driving the successes,” says project leader Jackie Shannon, Ph.D., a professor in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and the Knight Cancer Institute’s director of community engaged research.

The Knight Cancer Institute is one of 12 National Cancer Institute-designated centers to receive supplement awards focused on increasing HPV vaccine coverage.

Jackie Shannon, Ph.D.
Jackie Shannon, Ph.D.

The project designed by Shannon and colleagues focuses on three regions of Oregon where there are neighboring counties with both low and high HPV vaccination completion rates. A multitude of factors likely contribute to the uptake of the vaccine in Oregon’s rural counties, Shannon says. Differences in these factors have enabled some rural counties to achieve HPV vaccination completion rates that are higher than the state average. Shannon said these counties often border counties with very low rates. By systematically comparing what these counties have in common, and how they differ, the researchers expect to identify barriers and facilitators to full vaccination among adolescents. They’ll use that knowledge to develop approaches to improve HPV vaccination completion rates that are workable across rural regions.

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Many players are contributing to the project, including the community research coalitions that Shannon and others have established in rural Oregon. These coalitions include research liaisons based in rural communities who work with local leaders to identify areas of research need, and with academic institutions to find researchers able to help address these needs.

Other supporting organizations include the Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network, Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network, Oregon Health Authority, University of Kentucky, and the American Cancer Society.