The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler hosted an educational forum Friday aimed at boosting human papillomavirus vaccination rates in Texas.
The forum, “You Call the Shots,” was presented by the American Cancer Society as part of its HPV Cancer Free Texas Initiative.
Only about 40% of children ages 13 to 17 in Texas have completed the HPV vaccine series, placing Texas 44th in the nation, said Suncerria Tillis, senior director of state and primary health care systems for the American Cancer Society.
The ACS hopes the campaign increases the rate in Texas to 80% by 2026.
About 14 million people in the United States each year become infected with the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, and an estimated 80% of people will get HPV during their lives, according to information from ACS.
Most HPV infections go away on their own without lasting health problems. However, they can lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and throat cancers.
The American Cancer Society recommends that the two-shot HPV vaccine series is best given to boys and girls at ages 11 or 12. The HPV vaccination prevents 90% of HPV cancers when given at the recommended age, according to the health agency.
Tillis said in her opening remarks it is “absolutely absurd” that the vaccination rate is so low in Texas, especially in rural areas.
“There is an untapped opportunity to save lives with the HPV vaccine,” she said.
She said the campaign seeks to raise awareness of the problem, fight myths that the vaccination is not needed, and encourage health care providers to talk to families about having young people vaccinated.
“The HPV vaccine provides protection from an infection that nearly all of us get and which is causing a rising epidemic of cancers that appear years later,” Tillis said in news release about the forum.
Jeff Johnson, one of the speakers on a panel that also included medical professionals, is a survivor of throat cancer caused by HPV.
A veteran law-enforcement officer who has been married for 25 years, Johnson said he was infected by a strain of HPV that was dormant in his body for years.
He began experiencing pain while swallowing. Doctors eventually diagnosed a mass on lymph nodes in his throat to be cancer.
He said he was shocked by the diagnosis.
“The words, ‘You’ve got cancer’ can leave anyone speechless,” he said.
He went through difficult sessions of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation.
“In an effort to kill my cancer, they nearly killed me more than once,” he said.
Although there is now no evidence of the cancer in his body, Johnson said he doesn’t know whether it will return. The side effects he suffers from the treatments include pain when swallowing, fatigue, loss of taste and ringing in his ears.
“I will never be again who I was before,” he said.
He said he shares his experience to let people know there can be a consequence for not being vaccinated.
Other forum speakers were to include Dr. Tracie Calloway, Dr. Tiffany Hill, Dr. Stephen Rydzak and Dr. Erich Sturgis.