A vaccine targeting high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) strains can effectively prevent HPV-associated cervical cancer risk. However, many girls and women do not receive the vaccine, more often those impacted by health disparities associated with race and/or socioeconomic status. This same disparate population has also been shown to be at higher risk for cervical cancer. Many of these women also rely on the emergency department (ED) as a safety net for their healthcare. This study sought to gather information pertaining to HPV and cervical cancer risk factors, awareness of HPV and the vaccine, as well as HPV vaccine uptake in female patients presenting to an ED.
We obtained 81 surveys completed by female ED patients. Demographics included age, race, income, insurance status, primary care provider status, and known cervical-cancer risk factors. Subsequent survey questions explored respondents’ knowledge, familiarity, and attitudes regarding HPV, cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine, including vaccination uptake rates. We analyzed data using descriptive statistics and Fisher’s exact test.
Approximately one in seven respondents (14.8%) had never previously heard of HPV and 32.1% were unaware of the existence of a HPV vaccine. Minority patients, including those who were Black and Hispanic patients, low income patients, and uninsured and publicly insured patients were less likely to be aware of HPV and the vaccine and likewise were less likely to be offered and receive the vaccine. More than 60% of all respondents (61.3%) had never previously been offered the vaccine, and only 24.7% of all respondents had completed the vaccine series.
Female ED patients may represent an at-risk cohort with relatively low HPV awareness and low HPV vaccine uptake. The ED could represent a novel opportunity to access and engage high-risk HPV populations.