October 19, 2018
3 min read

Personal touch critical for mobile phone-based HPV awareness strategy

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Although college-aged adults were hesitant to learn about HPV and HPV vaccination via text messages and mobile apps, they expressed more willingness if personalized options were sent from a health care provider, according to findings from a qualitative study published in the Journal of Adolescent and Family Health.

According to the CDC, 99% of cervical cancer cases are a result of infection with high-risk HPV types. In the United States, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and vaccination coverage remains below national targets.

Gabrielle Darville, PhD, MPH, an instructor and evaluation coordinator in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach to raising HPV awareness among this “catchup group,” saying strategies should be more deliberately tailored to be as salient as possible.

“Just because adolescent and young adults are seen as the ‘digital natives,’ we cannot assume that crafting a simple text message or creating an app focused on HPV will suddenly motivate them to become more aware of their HPV risk and vaccination status,” Darville told Infectious Disease News. “HPV is one of those public health issues that is trickier to discuss because it not only relates to cancer prevention but sexual health as well.”

Darville and colleagues collected data from 210 undergraduate and graduate students from a large public university in Florida. Participants filled out an online survey about different technological interventions to raise awareness about HPV and the HPV vaccine and how to better customize this approach. The researchers aimed to determine what information should be included in a text message or mobile app intervention. Questions included:

  • “What are reasons in support of and against receiving SMS text messages on the HPV virus for adolescents and young adults?”
  • “What additional information should be included in a[n] SMS text message intervention to promote the HPV vaccine among adolescents?”
  • “How should HPV vaccine messages in a[n] SMS text intervention be framed?”

According to study findings, 88% (n = 147) of respondents were aged 18 to 25 years, 85.6% (n = 143) were female and 60% (n = 126) were white or Caucasian. Almost all — 92.9% (n = 182) — were never diagnosed with HPV and 61.6% (n = 117) had received three doses of the HPV vaccine.

“Research is needed to identify which technological approach is more appropriate for communicating with boys/men about the need for vaccination, as they are the highest carriers of the HPV virus and yet oftentimes present no clinical symptoms of infection” Darville said. “Most of the focus in media, research and communication has been on females, resulting in a lack of male vaccination rates due to the ‘feminization’ of the vaccine.”

Just 30% (n = 51) of participants said they would be open to receiving text messages about HPV. The 70% (n = 121) who indicated they did not want to receive messages expressed concerns over trust, reliability and spamming, according to the study. Similarly, when participants were asked about receiving information on the HPV vaccine via text messaging, just 24% (n = 41) indicated they would be open to it and 76% (n = 131) said they would not. According to Darville and colleagues, those who were open to receiving information about HPV and the vaccine viewed the approach as simple, accessible, convenient and a “great way” to track their vaccine status.

Among all participants, 85% answered questions about the content of the messaging. Of those, 46% (n = 78) suggested addressing vaccine effectiveness, 40% (n = 69) wanted to know their risk of acquiring the virus and 37% (n = 67) suggested addressing vaccine safety.

“Traditionally we have used a standard approach to communicating about HPV which has been slow in its effect on vaccination rates among young adults,” Darville said. “Future research should look at developing health communication campaigns/public health interventions that utilize tailored mHealth technologies for adolescent and young adults specifically on HPV. These studies should test the feasibility and effectiveness of those strategies, so we can see which approach works best to improve HPV vaccine outcomes.” – by Marley Ghizzone

Disclosure: Darville reports no relevant financial disclosures.