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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Teens In Low-Income Families Get HPV Vaccine If Parents Persuade Themselves Of Benefits

Courtesy of Southern Methodist University
In the first study of its kind, self-persuasion software on an iPad motivated low-income parents to want to protect their teens against the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus.

Guilt, social pressure and even a doctor’s recommendation aren't enough to motivate low-income families to vaccinate their teenagers for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), according to research from Southern Methodist University.

But a follow-up study from SMU finds that if parents persuade themselves of the benefits of the vaccinations, more teenagers in low-income families receive protection from the sexually transmitted, cancer-causing virus.  

Austin Baldwin, a professor of psychology at SMU, led the research.

Interview Highlights: 

What the study tells us about poverty: HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that is the primary cause of a variety of cancers. There's been a vaccine developed in the last 10 years, 12 years that's now approved. At times, those who are underinsured or uninsured don't have this same level of access to it. Both here locally as well as nationally [among] folks who are poor, who are uninsured, we see clear disparities across a variety of health outcomes including cancer, including cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is potentially a very effective means to address some of those health disparities.

How the study was conducted: We recruited parents of adolescents who get their pediatric care at Parkland clinic, and they participated in an iPad app that we developed. It provides them with some basic information about HPV and about the vaccine. It then prompts them with a number of questions to think about why getting the vaccine may be important, and then it prompts them to generate their own reasons for why they would get the vaccine. Most of the parents who had not previously given thought to or were undecided about the vaccine reported that they had decided to get their adolescent vaccinated.

How "self persuasion" was used in the study: Self-persuasion is basically the process of generating one's own argument for engaging in a behavior. Answering questions about the vaccine [through the app] and why it might be important helps parents think about and brainstorm reasons to get their child vaccinated.

How poverty can affect teenage vaccination rates: Time is certainly an issue. That might be particularly an issue with this vaccine series. When you've got older adolescents, they don't have annual check ups anymore; they're less frequent. Just taking the time to get there and do it can be more of a burden on the economically disadvantaged.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.