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Oceanside's South Nassau Communities Hospital's 'Truth in Medicine' poll reveals HPV vaccine stigma persists

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The Human Papillomavirus may last longer and cause cancer in 1 in 10 of the nearly 80 million people who have the disease, according to South Nassau Communities Hospital — yet many people still do not vaccinate against the common virus.

The Oceanside-based hospital’s latest “Truth In Medicine” poll revealed that more than one-third of parents will not or may not vaccine their kids against HPV. It also found that 61 percent of parents have vaccinated or plan to vaccinate all of their children, while 37 percent do not plan to or are unsure.

“We have an opportunity to educate the public about the facts versus the incorrect perceptions,” said Aaron E. Glatt, MD, South Nassau’s department of medicine chairman and hospital epidemiologist. “This is a cancer-preventing vaccine and needs to be a subject of discussion between parents and pediatricians.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the HPV virus causes 33,700 cases of cancer in men and women annually, about 31,200 of which could be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

When asked why they would not vaccinate their children, 56 percent of parents said they needed more information, did not know it was available for boys, or were unable to answer. According to the poll, 19 percent believed that the HPV vaccine was dangerous and 4 percent thought it would encourage their children to engage in sexual activity and put them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

“This vaccine is not giving a green light to be sexually active,” said Warren Rosenfeld, MD, chairman of pediatrics at South Nassau. “There are plenty of other STDs you can get from sex that will not be protected by this vaccine.”

Rosenfeld noted that SNCH’s poll revealed a higher rate of parents who were willing to give their children the vaccine than the national average. The poll surveyed 600 parents of at least one child under 18-years-old in New York City and Long Island, of which about two-thirds said they planned to have their children vaccinated against HPV. Nationally, about half of parents vaccinate their children, Rosenfeld said.

“Many cited they just didn’t know enough about the vaccine,” he said. “We hope to get the information out there — we’d see a lot less cervical cancers if everyone got it.”

Jeannine Gismondi, a nurse at South Nassau’s gynecologic oncology unit, is the mother of three sons who have all been vaccinated. “[The HPV vaccine] is very important and I don’t think people realize that it can cause other cancers,” she said, noting that while HPV causes nearly all cervical cancers, it can also cause oral, anal, vaginal and penile cancers.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, one of the HPV vaccines, for women in 2006 and men in 2009. Last October, the FDA approved the vaccination for adults up to 45-years-old. It was previously approved only up to age 26.

Going forward, South Nassau staff members said they hoped to use the poll’s findings to educate the public on the HPV vaccine. “It’s one of the few vaccinations that can prevent a virus that causes cancer,” Gismondi said. “Education is the best thing we can do.”