The School of Pharmacy is partnering with the Public Health Program to hold two University of Mississippi HPV Free events on Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 1-4 p.m. at the Galtney-Lott Plaza and Wednesday, Oct. 6th, 1-4 p.m. at the Union Plaza.
UM HPV Free is a campaign centered around spreading awareness about the human papillomavirus and providing students with the opportunity to get vaccinated. The events will include learning opportunities and giveaways. At the tables, students interested in getting the vaccine can connect with the Student Health Department.
Dr. Marie Barnard, Graduate Program Coordinator for the School of Pharmacy, hopes these events will help educate students on the potential effects of HPV.
“HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain cancers later in life,” Barnard said. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, 85% of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime.”
Most HPV infections aren’t cause for concern and will dissipate on their own, according to Barnard. However, there are some that stay and can cause certain cancers. Barnard hopes to teach students that the HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent this risk.
“HPV vaccination is cancer prevention,” Barnard said.
Spreading this information is vital as Mississippi has one of the lowest HPV vaccination rates in the country despite having a high rate of childhood vaccinations. According to the CDC as of 2019, only 30.5% of adolescents in Mississippi are fully vaccinated for HPV. This number is substandard when compared to the overall 54.2% of the United States.
“This is a missed cancer prevention opportunity and we hope to increase vaccinations to reduce the risk of future HPV-related cancers in our community,” Barnard said.
Madison Thornton, an Ole Miss alum who graduated with a B.S. in biology and a B.A. in public policy leadership, shared similar sentiments. Thornton wrote her Honors College senior thesis on the HPV vaccination rate in Mississippi. The state’s low rate paired with the risks of HPV was Thornton’s inspiration.
“I was interested in exploring the factors contributing to (the low vaccination rate) and how we can increase the HPV vaccination rate in Mississippi because of the vaccine’s potential to prevent cancer and improve the health of Mississippians,” Thornton said.
For her thesis, Thornton interviewed 13 physicians across the state to get to the root of the problem. She found that Mississippi’s lack of requirement, lack of education and the association of the HPV virus with sexual activity led people to avoid the vaccine. Forgetting to schedule a second appointment is also a factor, Thornton said.
Thornton said she hopes policy change will help turn the numbers around. She said policies focused on education, mandates and automatic appointment scheduling are key to improving vaccination rates.
Spreading awareness through events like UM HPV Free will contribute to the education Thornton wants. Barnard said she hopes the campaign will become an annual event.
“Come by and see us at the Wednesday events to learn the facts about HPV and how to protect yourself from HPV-related cancers,” Barnard said.