TAMPA — The good news is that Florida is no longer ranks dead last in the country in the number of adolescents getting immunized against human papillomavirus.
But we're “still in the bottom group,” said an official from the Centers for Disease Control.
That's not good enough for a group of local health professionals or for Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who traveled to Tampa on Tuesday to push a public health initiative to increase lagging HPV vaccination rates here.
Stepping away from the Ebola and Chikungunya crises dominating her home office in Atlanta, Schuchat focused on an immunization program she called “extremely effective, very safe, long-lasting and under-utilized.”
Immunization against HPV protects against cervical cancer and other cancers the virus can cause, including cancers in boys.
“We cannot forget about the infectious diseases that are preventable through vaccines,” said Schuchat. “The girls and boys that aren't vaccinated right now against HPV may go on to develop preventable cancers in the future. They won't show up as an outbreak on the front page of the news, but their disease can be devastating.”
In Florida, less than 40 percent of girls 13-17 received the first shot in the three-shot series to protect them against HPV. That put the state at No. 50 on CDC rankings for 2012, the most recent figures.
Just 25 percent received the full treatment.
New CDC numbers are coming out this month. Schuchat said Florida has made slight improvement, but still hovers around the bottom.
Meantime, Florida has some of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country — 9.5 per 100,000 women in Hillsborough County, with the national average at 7.5, according to the CDC.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, who organized Tuesday's news conference at the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, said those numbers are unacceptable.
She has formed the HPV Action and Awareness Coalition, which is working with the USF Health on outreach. Graduate students in USF's College of Public Health have been visiting schools and health centers and writing letters to pediatricians and practitioners encouraging them to discuss the vaccine with patients.
“It's important to this state, to USF Health, and to me personally to educate our community on the importance of getting vaccinated,” said Charles Lockwood, new dean of USF Health's Morsani College of Medicine. “Education is crucial in this effort.”