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.
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.