Parents' beliefs, rather than knowledge, are what drive their acceptance of human papillomavirus vaccines for their children, according to a new study.
Therefore, simply educating them about human papillomavirus (HPV) “may not be sufficient to influence their attitudes toward HPV vaccination, as attitudes may be driven by other, non-information-based preferences,” wrote Dr. Amanda F. Dempsey of the University of Washington, Seattle, and her colleagues (Pediatrics 2006;117:1486–93).
Their cross-sectional survey of 1,600 parents of 8− to 12-year-old children included a randomized intervention for half of them, which consisted of an HPV information sheet. The researchers hypothesized that those parents who received the information sheet would demonstrate increased HPV knowledge compared with controls, and therefore more openness toward vaccinating their children. However, among the 840 participants who completed the study, although those participants who received the information sheet (429) had higher scores compared with the controls (411) on the HPV knowledge assessment tool (5.57 vs. 4.17), there was no significant difference between the groups with respect to parental vaccine acceptability scores.
Instead, the most significant predictor of parental HPV vaccine acceptance was belief in the vaccines' benefits to society and to their children, noted the authors. In addition, five other predictors were peer group influence, physician recommendation, the perception that their children were susceptible to sexually transmitted infections and/or HPV, having had personal or close experience with genital warts, and answering questions about a female child.
“If policy-makers adopt a universal HPV vaccination policy (male and female), then addressing the benefits to male vaccination specifically may be necessary for these vaccines to be widely used,” they wrote.
Results of the study have “important implications for medical providers and public health practitioners when communicating with parents about HPV vaccines in the future,” noted the authors. “Focusing discussions on the benefits that are associated with giving HPV vaccines to children or on addressing general concerns that parents may have about the discomforts and/or dangers that are associated with vaccines may be useful strategies for promoting these vaccines,” they suggested.
Prophylactic HPV vaccines are expected to be licensed by 2007 or earlier, with preadolescent children aged 8–12 years as a proposed target population.
Therefore, parental acceptance of HPV vaccination is critical, explained the authors.
Parents' perceived barriers to vaccine acceptability included the belief that their children experienced significant discomfort or danger when receiving immunizations.
“Future HPV vaccination campaigns should attempt to stress the benefits of HPV vaccination for children and address the fears of parents about dangers or discomfort associated with vaccines,” the researchers concluded.