Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are one of the only vaccinations that can prevent cancer, but most women, especially black women, are still unlikely to get the shots. This is according to Sonya Borrero, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
A study from Borrero and researchers at the School of Medicine found black women are significantly less likely to receive human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines than white women.
Out of the 2,168 females in the study, 18.2 percent of black women were likely to have initiated the series of HPV vaccinations, compared to the 33.1 percent of white women.
Borrero said the researchers expected to find a disparity but were surprised by the reason why.
“There was a significant disparity in HPV vaccination uptake … it did not seem this disparity could be explained simply by differences in health care access, so that was surprising to us,” Borrero said.
Borrero said the researchers are unsure why there is a significant gap but think some of the reasons might be because of negative attitudes toward the vaccine.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
Borrero said cervical cancer is more common and has a higher mortality rate in black and Hispanic women.
“Most people get it if they’re sexually active, but most people clear it and for some reason, we don’t know if it has anything to do with sexual behavior or if its biologic or genetic, there are some people who just don’t clear it as well,” Borrero said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans currently have HPV, and nearly all sexually active men and women will get it at some point in their life.
Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause most cervical cancers.
The CDC said the symptoms of both vaccinations include fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever and hives, all of which it does not consider serious.
Borrero said studies have shown that HPV vaccinations are underutilized.
“On a population level, this is a really safe and effective vaccine, and one of the few that can prevent cancer,” Borrero said. “So I think overall there needs to be a push to sort of address any of the concerns and barriers to HPV vaccination.”