Grand effort: Grannies give HPV vaccinations a welcome boost

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The vaccine against the sexually transmitted infection known as HPV has proved to be a tough sell, but a group of local grandmothers has taken on the challenge.

The Pittsburgh chapter of Grandmother Power — an international movement that has spread across the globe and embraced various causes — was established through a partnership between the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Women and Girls Foundation. The group announced last Wednesday that its first effort will be to increase HPV vaccination rates in the region.

The human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, but most of the time it has no symptoms, so people don’t know they have it. Some types of the virus, though, can cause cervical cancer in women and other kinds of cancer as well as genital warts in men and women. HPV is responsible for 26,000 new cases of cancer each year.

Despite its prevalence, the number of young people being vaccinated against HPV is woefully low. Last year, fewer than 38 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys had received the recommended doses.

Part of the challenge is persuading parents to have the vaccine administered to their children well before they become sexually active. Inoculation is recommended when children are 11 and 12, and the oldest that patients are advised to receive the vaccine is 26. Although multiple studies have demonstrated that getting vaccinated did not increase the risk of recipients engaging in risky sexual behavior, some parents have resisted its use on that basis.

Another obstacle to getting the full benefit of the vaccine is that it should be administered in three doses over six months, making the process somewhat cumbersome.

But the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinical trials have been close to 100 percent effective in protecting against pre-cancers and genital warts.

That’s a strong argument for being vaccinated. And nobody really wants to argue with their grandmothers.

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