Newswise — University of Virginia Health System is joining a coalition of healthcare organizations to improve vaccination rates in western Virginia for human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause of cancer.

Virginia Center for Health Innovation is partnering with 40 pediatric and family medicine sites from UVA, Ballad Health and Carilion Clinic to boost HPV vaccinations with the support of a $225,000 grant from Merck. 

Six different types of cancer in men and women, including cervical cancer and throat cancer, can be caused by HPV. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes more than 33,000 cancers each year, and more than 31,000 of those could be prevented with the HPV vaccine. The combined HPV vaccine completion rate for boys and girls was 53% in 2017, well below the goal of 80% set in the federal Healthy People 2020 initiative.

All UVA Children’s Hospital primary care clinics will participate in the partnership, said James P. Nataro, MD, PhD, MBA, Benjamin Armistead Shepherd Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“UVA has joined this initiative because HPV vaccination rates in Virginia are lower than they should be, and only a concerted effort of the healthcare community will increase vaccine uptake, and thereby save lives,” he said. “We will launch a multipronged campaign to educate healthcare workers and the public on the importance of HPV vaccination. Studies show that people trust their pediatricians to deliver information vital to their children’s health, so we want to ensure that the providers are equipped to educate the families for whom they care.”

Participating healthcare workers will have access to six months of online education and virtual coaching, including a site with on-demand webinars as well as other tools and resources. Clinics will track progress by reviewing reports from their own electronic health records together with their virtual coach.

“Our hope is that the learnings and best practices garnered from this project can be shared across the commonwealth,” said Beth Bortz, president and CEO of VCHI.