Some girls are missing out on the vaccination that helps protect against cervical cancer because of fears related to the vaccination process, a study by researchers at the University of Sydney and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead has found.
In the study, carried out at nine Sydney metropolitan schools and published in the current edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, researchers found many schoolgirls showed high levels of fear and anxiety when offered HPV vaccine.
Principal investigator Associate Professor Rachel Skinner said: “Sometimes this fear was so extreme it bordered on hysteria, with girls crying, screaming and fainting. When this intense fear was witnessed by girls waiting to be vaccinated, the girls’ anxiety levels was heightened.
“Nurses had difficulty administering the vaccine to these girls, and this sometimes resulted in the girl not being vaccinated, despite their parents consenting to the vaccination,” said Associate Professor Skinner.
Associate Professor Skinner said she and her team were surprised to find vaccination fear was so common. “We observed vaccination days in three schools and interviewed 130 girls who had been offered the vaccine, as well as 38 parents, seven nurses and 10 teachers. The girls’ fear was the most prominent finding in our interview and observation data.
“One of the girls we interviewed said: ‘We saw these two people [girls] … like pouring their eyes out and so our class got, like, freaked out… Like, ‘are we going to get hurt?’ So we were all, like, really scared and everyone was crying and getting all nervous.'”
The girls’ fear and anxiety was related to a lack of understanding about what the vaccine was, how it was administered, its risks and benefits, the researchers found.
“Our research shows few parents actually discuss the vaccine with their daughters, and teachers are ill-equipped to answer girls’ questions,” Associate Professor Skinner said. “Also, nurses are not able to educate girls about the vaccine because of time constraints during mass school vaccination.”
She added: “Any young person who is offered the HPV vaccine should know what the vaccine is, what it protects against, its strengths and limitations. They may only be 12 or 13 years old but they can participate in looking after their own health.
“Our study has shown withholding information from young adolescents offered the HPV vaccine is not only undesirable, it appears to interfere with the efficiency of the vaccination process in schools.”
Associate Professor Skinner and colleagues are currently developing an HPV vaccine educational resource for young adolescents for use by both schools and parents to address this important health issue.
For more information on immunisation, including the childhood immunisation scedule, types of vaccines, preconception screening, as well as some useful videos, see Immunisation.