Utahns don’t always love a vaccine. Except for this one.

HPV vaccination rates for teens keep climbing, data shows. Doctors, researchers and community partners explain why.

(Huntsman Cancer Institute) Deanna Kepka holds her son Jonah's hand while he gets the HPV vaccine.

Last week the Tribune reported on the improving human papillomavirus vaccination rates for teens. (You can read the full story here).

Here are key takeaways from the reporting.

The numbers

New data from the CDC’s 2021 National Immunization Survey estimated that 80.9% of teens in Utah have received their first dose of the human papillomavirus vaccine. The state is now up to 33rd place in the nation for up-to-date HPV vaccination rates for teens, up from 47th last year.

Why it matters

The HPV vaccine is capable of preventing six different kinds of cancers in both boys and girls.

Roughly 8 out of 10 people are infected with the virus at some point in their lives and each year nearly 35,000 people in the U.S. develop HPV-related cancers.

“I truly believe that if I would have had the vaccine, I wouldn’t have had that cervical cancer and gone through everything that I went through,” said Mandy Murry, a cervical cancer survivor.

Despite the life-saving potential of the vaccine, Utah, and other states in the Mountain West, had been slow to embrace it.

Lessons Learned

Those involved with campaigns and research to improve vaccination rates in the Mountain West spoke with the Tribune about successful, evidence-based, tactics and messaging they deployed across the region.

  1. Treat every visit like a vaccination visit, said Deanna Kepka, an investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and leader of the Intermountain West HPV vaccination coalition.

  2. Focusing on the vaccine’s goal is Murray pediatrician Dr. Neal Davis’ advice. He tells his young patients and their parents that the HPV vaccine helps prevent cancer. If they have more questions about how the vaccine works and why it’s important, Davis is always willing to provide more information.

  3. Getting key players involved also helped improve rates, Kepka said. The American Cancer Society, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah Health and Intermountain HealthCare are all working to improve HPV vaccinations in the state — from starting vaccinations earlier to creating better tracking systems to ensure kids don’t miss second and third doses.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.