Wide Open Spaces: Supporting HPV Vaccination with Rural Communities

A Possible Strategy to Increase HPV Vaccination Rates Among Young Adults in Rural Areas: Partnering with Universities

By Min Jee Lee, PhD, MPH, Southern Illinois University

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It is associated with several types of cancer, including cervical, anal, vaginal, oropharyngeal, vulvar, and penile cancer. Despite the availability of the HPV vaccine, vaccination rates remain low, particularly among young adults aged 18–26. Shockingly, only 40% of adult women and 8% of adult men initiate vaccinations nationwide.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine HPV vaccination for adolescents between 11 and 12 years of age, while HPV vaccination can be started at age 9. Catch-up vaccination is recommended for adults aged 13–26 years. Despite these recommendations, the uptake of the HPV vaccine remains low, especially in rural areas.

Partnering with colleges and universities presents a promising strategy to increase HPV vaccine uptake among young adults. Vaccination uptake among college students is low, with only 44% receiving at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, and only 16% completing the series, according to a study conducted by Min Jee Lee, PhD, MPH, with colleagues at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

"Young adults are an ideal target audience for HPV vaccination improvement due to their legal ability to consent and the insulated environments of college campuses."
Min Jee Lee, PhD
photo of Min Jee Hee

Vaccinating college students against HPV not only provides personal benefits but also contributes to establishing herd immunity. Young adults are an ideal target audience for HPV vaccination improvement due to their legal ability to consent and the insulated environments of college campuses. By partnering with a local university in a rural community, we can reach this age group and develop interventions that can be implemented nationwide using free or inexpensive strategies.

College students have a higher chance of having access to health insurance, making HPV vaccination more affordable for them. Many universities require their students to have health insurance and provide student health insurance plans. Some students may also be covered by their parents' health insurance until they turn 26. So, cost should not be a significant hurdle for most college students to receive the HPV vaccine.

By collaborating with universities and using existing health care resources, the HPV vaccine can be made available to college students at little to no cost. Moreover, college students can receive the vaccine at their university's health center, which many institutions offer at no cost or reduced cost. This approach not only increases the likelihood of college students getting vaccinated but also minimizes the financial burden of vaccination, particularly for those who lack access to health insurance outside of their university's health center. This is especially important in universities located in rural areas.

Increasing vaccination rates among young adults can significantly reduce the spread of HPV and the associated risk of cancer. It is crucial to prioritize efforts to increase HPV vaccination rates to protect the health and wellbeing of young adults and future generations. By targeting college students with specific interventions, we can make significant strides toward eliminating the spread of HPV and associated cancers.


We invite guest contributors to share information on how they are working to improve HPV vaccination in rural areas. If you are interested in contributing or learning more about our efforts to improve HPV vaccination with rural communities, please email us at PreventHPV@stjude.org.

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