PHILADELPHIA – A study at the University of Pennsylvania on proposed legislation mandating that school-age girls obtain the Human Papillomavirus vaccine before they can enter school shows that the majority of Americans either oppose the legislation or are neutral.
Researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication found that respondents are, however, in favor of government-run education programs to help people understand the value of the vaccine and of allowing parents to decide on their own about vaccinating their daughters. Americans are also generally in favor of government subsidies to pay for the vaccine for the uninsured.
The responses were obtained from a survey of adults, beginning in June 2006, by the Center for Excellence in Cancer Communication Research at Annenberg. Researchers at the CECCR have been studying media coverage of the HPV vaccine and its effects on knowledge, public opinion and intentions to vaccinate. The work is done through the monthly Annenberg National Health Communication Survey, which gives CECCR researchers an up-to-the-minute view of the public’s position on cancer-related and other health-related topics. These results are to be presented this week during the Centers for Disease Control’s annual cancer conference in Atlanta.
Respondents were questioned on a variety of public policy topics, including:
• The necessity of parental consent for girls and young women under 18, prior to obtaining the HPV vaccine,
• Whether doctors should recommend the vaccine to their eligible female patients,
• Support for the federal government run a public education campaign on the HPV vaccine,
• Who pays for the vaccine? The government, insurers, or individuals? And,
• Should the vaccine be a requirement for young girls before they can be admitted to middle school?
Lawmakers in at least 41 states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation to require, fund or educate the public about the HPV vaccine, and at least 17 states have passed it into law.
“There is evidence to support the position that state laws requiring immunization as a condition of school enrollment increases the use of vaccines, but a significant proportion of the population views such legislation as infringing on civil liberties and parental rights,” said Amy Leader, research director at the CECCR.
In June 2006 – the same month that the vaccine received FDA approval – Annenberg researchers surveyed 634 adults about vaccination intentions and policy opinions. Next, in January through June 2007, a new sample was recruited monthly to answer one question about mandatory vaccination.
Nearly half the survey participants oppose mandatory vaccinations in schools; only 15.8 percent support such legislation, and 34.7 percent are neutral. Also, 45.4 percent said they are against vaccinating girls under age 18 without parental consent.
Respondents supported the idea of physicians recommending the vaccine to eligible patients (60.2 percent), while over half supported the government covering the vaccine for the uninsured (57.1 percent) and that insurers should pay for the vaccine (64.7 percent). A total of 58.2 percent said the government should sponsor an educational campaign about the vaccine.
These current surveys follow a related 2006 work by the CECCR, which found that the way in which the vaccine was described affected how respondents felt about obtaining it. For example, when told the vaccine protects against cervical cancer, 63 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to get the vaccine. However, for women who read that the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and any sexually transmitted infection, that number dropped to 43 percent.
Information about the CECCR can be found at http://ceccr.asc.upenn.edu.