Michelle Rupp: Joining me now is Heather Mercer with Immunize Arkansas. Hi Heather. Thanks for coming in today. Thank you for having me. So, we are talking about the fact that April is oral cancer awareness month and there are several causes of oral cancer but one of those is HPV. So, let’s talk about that. What is HPV?

Heather Mercer: Well HPV is the Human Papillomavirus, and it is the leading sexually transmitted virus in the United States. We probably all have had the HPV virus and didn’t know we had it. Most people get it and clear it with no problems but for some people they get it, and it causes cancers. It can cause cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer and oral cancer, anal cancer and it can also cause genital warts. And so, we’re raising awareness about the oral cancer. Oral cancers have surpassed cervical cancers in the number of cancers caused by HPV. It’s five times more prevalent in men than in women and it can be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

MR: Okay so let’s talk about that vaccine. Is there an age group first of all that’s eligible?

HM: Yeah, so the advisory committee on immunization practices which is part of the CDC that recommends when people get the vaccine recommends that kids get it starting at age 11. They can get it starting at age nine, but it’s typically given at age 11 or 12 when they get their Tdap and meningococcal vaccines. If they get it before age 15, they only need two doses if they get it after age 15, they have to get three. So, you know, the earlier they get it, the better their immune response. We want them to get it before they’re exposed to HPV and fewer shots is always better. Sure. And then in Arkansas were having issues with kids completing the series.

MR: So, I was going to ask what do our numbers look like?

HM: So right now, they don’t look very good for series completion. We’re doing okay as far as the first dose. But right now, Sevier County has the highest percentage of people that have completed the series and it’s 30%. So, if you look at like Tdap and meningococcal we’re at about 80% or 90% for those vaccines And HPV is 30 so we’ve got to do better and it prevents cancers. You know when the vaccine was first launched, a lot of people thought it would, you know, their kids might be more promiscuous if they got the vaccine. But I think we’ve gotten past that now because we now know it is a cancer preventing vaccine.

MR: Is there an age a point where you age out?

HM: So, age 45 is the max that was approved. The indication changed I think in 2019 and it was approved for up to age 45. From 26 to 45 you have to consult with your doctor and see if you know you’re eligible. But even if you’ve been exposed to HPV, you can still get the vaccine because there are many different strains of HPV and you may not have been exposed to all of the ones that are in the vaccine. So even if you’ve been told by your doctor that you’ve had HPV, you still want to get the vaccine because you may not have had all of the strains that are in the vaccine.

MR: So why do you think the numbers are down? Do you think are we just as a society fatigued of vaccines?

HM: Well, I think Covid has had an impact on all of our vaccines. You know, percentages. Because people weren’t going to the doctor, they just, you know, all of our vaccine numbers are down. But I do think it is a fatigue thing. And this one isn’t required for school. So that has an impact on it as well. But it just it’s a very important vaccine because it prevents cancer. And if you hear stories of people that have had the cancers that this virus causes. It will change your mind. You know, if you’re on the fence about whether or not you want to get this for your child and you hear from someone that has had cervical cancer or oral cancer or any of the other cancers that it causes. Those are horrible stories. And if you can prevent it, you would do it right.

MR: Why would you not? Well, you guys. Immunized Arkansas is putting together, I mean putting together a summit right to talk about this and it’s May 6th. Let’s talk a little bit about that.

MR: So, this will be our fifth year to do this summit and it is for medical and dental professionals. So, we’ve always invited the dental professionals because of the oral cancer piece. And it’s May 6. We offer continuing education for the Medical and Dental Providers. We offer six hours of continuing education for physicians, nurses, pharmacist, physician assistants and dental professionals. We will have a survivor, a cervical cancer survivor tells her story. So that there is that, you know, personal touch so that people can hear why they need to vaccinate if they’re not already doing it because of the why they can hear the why. And it’s in person if you want to get out of the house or get out of the clinic and come see your colleagues. You can come in person, or you can do it virtually.

MR: Okay. If people are interested, where should they go to register? I’m assuming we need to register for this.

HM: Yeah, you can go to immunizear.org and there’s information on our website and there’s, you know, obviously different price points if you if you come in person or virtually. So hopefully we’ve already got over 100 people registered. But there’s still room, especially if you attend virtually. There’s no limit for attending virtually. Heather, is there anything else as it relates to oral cancers and HPV that you would like to add?

HM: Well, there’s a lot of information about it on our website. Yeah. If anybody needs more information, they can go to immunizear.org. There’s information for providers and for parents if they need information. Also, it’s an important conversation to have with your kids.

HM: Yes.

MR: Okay. All right, Heather thank you for coming in today.

HM: Thank you so much for having me.

MR: And thank you so much for joining us. We’ll see you back here next week for more AFMC TV.