Wide Open Spaces: Supporting HPV Vaccination in Rural Communities

Reaching Rural Communities with HPV Vaccination Messages on a Budget

HPV vaccination messages have long been hijacked by misinformation and ensuing lack of knowledge. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to reclaim the message: HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. Plain and simple. For those of us in this space, we hope to see more vaccinating providers promoting this important message to parents of adolescents. The most effective way to raise acceptance of any vaccine is through a strong provider recommendation. Beyond that, community health professionals can offer additional support for HPV vaccination by increasing the number of times a parent or caregiver sees these positive HPV vaccination messages outside of a clinical setting. This can be accomplished through community outreach events, educational presentations, and media placements.

Cancer Prevention in Action (CPiA) is grant-funded through the New York State Department of Health. One of the many goals in this program is to provide education to the public about the importance of the HPV vaccination as a safe and effective method of cancer prevention. The St. Lawrence Health Initiative delivers CPiA objectives in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and St. Lawrence Counties in Northern New York, a predominantly rural region where the average rate of 13-year-old adolescents with a complete HPV vaccine series is just 22%.

While having a presence at community events is a great start to engaging the public, offering promotional giveaway items is even better. Unfortunately, obtaining traditional giveaways can be a barrier for public health and nonprofit organizations (many key partners fit into these categories). Even though bulk items are usually offered at a discount, the cost is often too much for agencies that don’t have funds allocated for those kinds of materials. Additionally, there is the issue of time: promotional items take time to be produced. The timing issue led the CPiA team at the St. Lawrence Health Initiative to purchase a hand-operated button-making machine. 

photo of Angelina Blank
Effective community health outreach can be difficult if there is a struggle to get people’s attention in the first place. Lack of funding is usually the culprit, as organizations may not have large budgets for giveaways or activities. Using a low-tech device like a button maker at tabling events is a great economical way to engage the public and produce custom items.

Angelina Blank, Coordinator of the Cancer Prevention in Action program at the St Lawrence Health Initiative in New York State.

We knew we wanted to have HPV vaccination-themed giveaways for kids at the multiple back-to-school events this year, but with only a few weeks until the first one, time was not on our side. We ordered the button maker, which arrived a week after ordering. We created custom templates with fun illustrations surrounded by the phrase “HPV Vaccination is Cancer Prevention. “We were able to make about 200 buttons from start to finish in a few hours. It was a fun team effort, as St. Lawrence Health Initiative employees helped with coloring at one of their staff meetings. Besides the ease of mass production, it has proven to be a cost-effective tool---the machine and pieces to make 1,000 buttons cost just under $150. We have since used the machine for more than pre-made button-making. It has become a great tool for direct engagement at smaller tabling events. Kids see the glittery gel pens and sizeable red button machines and are instantly curious. An opportunity is created to converse with parents and caregivers while the kids work on their coloring projects. We use that time to offer the basic facts and information about the importance of vaccination and ask if they have any questions. The voluntary feedback we have received about the button maker from kids and parents alike has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s possible to reach rural communities with HPV vaccination messages on a budget.  

Angelina Blank is the coordinator of the Cancer Prevention in Action program at the St. Lawrence Health Initiative in New York State. St. Lawrence County is a large, predominantly rural county.

We invite guest contributors to share information on how they are working to improve HPV vaccination in rural areas. If you want to contribute or learn more about our efforts to improve HPV vaccination in rural communities, please email us.