Public health experts hit the road to address barriers to vaccination for children in Texas

Every year the World Health Organization recognizes the last week of April as World Immunization Week – a time to celebrate the millions of lives saved and the eradication of multiple diseases because of vaccines. However, access to vaccines is still a barrier for many children in our community, so public health experts with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) are hitting the ground to bring lifesaving immunizations directly to them.

All for Them is a multimethod, multicomponent program aimed at increasing immunization rates, including for the HPV vaccine, among minority youth in medically underserved areas across Texas. Led by researchers at UTHealth School of Public Health, the initiative is a collaborative effort with Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, Texas Children’s Hospital, Memorial Hermann Health System, and Harris County Public Health.

In hopes of ending the current global pandemic, the importance of staying up to date on immunizations is especially relevant. However, with the dramatic shift in daily life due to COVID-19 precautions, experts worry many children will continue to fall behind on their immunization schedules.

All for Them partners with select public school districts, hosting free vaccination clinics at school for middle school and high school students as well as their younger siblings so these children can receive all of their recommended shots. Immunizations offered include tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningococcal hepatitis A, influenza, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

“We aim to help parents understand the importance of these immunizations, and bring the vaccines directly to their children to eliminate the barriers to their children receiving them,” said Paula M. Cuccaro, PhD, principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.

A recent study revealed that HPV vaccine hesitancy among parents of teens has increased in the U.S. Research has also shown that many Americans are unaware that the very common and highly contagious sexually transmitted infection causes oral, anal, and penile cancers, in addition to cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. A 2018 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed only 51% of those in the recommended age groups had been vaccinated.

The CDC recommends children ages 9-14 receive a two-dose immunization series. If the first dose is administered on or after the child’s 15th birthday, a three-dose schedule is recommended. The CDC also recommends that adults ages 27-45 may decide to get the HPV vaccine based on discussion with their health care provider.

HPV is responsible for 34,800 new cancer diagnoses annually. The virus is linked to more than 90% of all cervical and anal cancer diagnoses, more than 60% of all penile cancers, and approximately 70% of all oral cancers. The HPV vaccine provides protection against nearly 90% of cancer-causing infections.

To read more about the recommended immunizations schedules for children and adolescents, visit the CDC’s website.

All for Them is funded by The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).