By Marla Broadfoot

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $407,000 grant to Joan Cates, Ph.D., M.P.H., a researcher in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, to develop and implement a campaign to raise awareness about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among parents, health care providers and pre-teen boys.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States and infects half of sexually active males and females. Some types of HPV cause genital warts and are associated with anal, penile, cervical, vulvar, vaginal and throat cancers. HPV vaccine can help protect against diseases caused by infection with the virus, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 32 percent of females and 2 percent of males get vaccinated.

“Underutilization and low parental awareness of the vaccine, which was first recommended routinely for males in late 2011, have resulted in missed opportunities to reduce HPV and associated cancers in males and their partners,” says Cates.

The NIH grant helps to fund a social marketing campaign, titled “Protect Him,” for parents in 13 North Carolina counties with radio announcements, posters, brochures and a website. It also funds collaboration with health care providers of pre-teen boys to raise parental awareness of HPV vaccine for males. The counties targeted for the campaign include areas with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and cancer-related consequences than the state.

It builds on the work of Cates and her colleagues – funded by a $10,000 pilot award from the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute and a $5,000 award from the University Research Council– that designed and tested messages to promote vaccination of adolescent boys. Their research, published in March in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, found the messages that most motivate parents focus on risk of HPV infection and include images of parents with their sons.

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