Urges getting HPV vaccine to prevent cancers

Officials with the Knox County Board of Public Health are doubling down on their efforts to push the HPV vaccine.

County health officer Alan Stewart on Wednesday during the board's regular monthly meeting pitched the idea of renting two local billboards to help spread their message of the importance of getting the human papillomavirus vaccine to prevent certain types of cancer.

He priced two billboards through LAMAR, he said, at a cost of $3,200. One would be along Hart Street, according to sanitarian Madeline Moon; the other would be along U.S. 41.

Stewart said he's working with LAMAR on two possible designs; he plans to have them for the board to look at — and hopefully approve — when it meets again in September.

The first, he said, features the phrase, “Stop Cancer Before it Starts,” then would have information on how to contact the health department for more information.

The other, he said, features the image of a mother with her arms around a child and the phrase, “Love me. Protect me. Immunize me.”

“It's really impressive,” he said of that design, which he's seen on other, similar billboards across the country.

But before he can move forward with having them placed, the county health board will need to approve the design. It will then require additional approval, Stewart said, from state health officials.

Regardless, board members were ready to move forward, believing the billboards an important part of their mission to reach as many people as possible concerning the importance of the HPV vaccine.

Dr. Dan Combs, board president, said he'd noticed several other, similar billboards in his travels across Indiana.

“I think it's worth doing,” he said.

Since taking over earlier this year, Stewart has worked hard to push the HPV vaccine, believing it key to preventing several different types of cancer.

A vaccine for HPV hit the market with a vengeance about 15 years ago, being recommended for all girls under the age of 25 to protect against cervical cancer. In the early 1980s, studies confirmed the presence of HPV in cervical cancer cells, thereby prompting research and the development of a vaccine.

Since then, however, its popularity has waned as anti-vaxers questioned its long-term effects.

Proof of its effectiveness, however, not only for girls but for boys as well, continues to grow, Stewart has said.

The vaccine, Gardasil, went on the market in the 1990s after it was granted fast tack approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the National Vaccine Information Center

The Center for Disease Control recommends it and for a variety of ages.

Most insurance companies cover the cost of the vaccine up to the age of 28, but the CDC says its effectiveness can be seen up to the age of 45.

The vaccine, Stewart said, is readily available at the county's immunization clinic, 305 S. Fifth St., but very few people request it, perhaps due to alleged misinformation spread years ago.

Young women who receive the vaccine can reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer by a staggering 93 percent, Stewart said.

But it's not just for females. And it never really was, Stewart pointed out. Men are carriers of the virus.

Stewart said the HPV vaccine has been, once again, thrust into the spotlight as the virus is being linked to more than just cervical cancer in women. Researchers have shown a direct connection between HPV and head and neck cancers in men.

The virus, too, has been connected to penile and anal carcinomas.

Stewart has been working with local school corporations to encourage the HPV vaccine for teens, and he's conducting a seminar at Vincennes University this fall.

For more information, contact the health department at 812-882-8080.

The health department, too, recently began offering more vaccines to adults. Available to those 19 and over are HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, meningitis, meningitis B, MMR, prevnar, TDAP and Varicella.

The health department is open 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

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