The team aims to raise awareness about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that children receive the HPV vaccination around the ages of 11 or 12, when it is most effective.
The team has been researching the topic since 2009. In August, they received a four-year $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue the project.
Joan Cates, senior lecturer in UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and head researcher for the project, said the team is using technological tools, such as games and text messaging, as new strategies to involve preteens in the decision to be vaccinated.
“We will be designing engaging and smart new games that they can use on their smartphones,” she said. “These games will teach them about vaccines and the HPV vaccine in particular. They can play them wherever, not just the doctor’s office.”
In a June article published in the journal “Vaccine,” Cates said her research showed that social marketing techniques can make a difference in raising awareness and encouraging vaccination.
Sandra Diehl, a research associate for Community Academic Resources for Engaged Scholarship, is also a member of the project team. She said she is proud of the project’s progress in raising awareness so far.
“We’re really looking at new ways to communicate about prevention of HPV and creating a comfortable environment to discuss this topic,” Diehl said.
For the HPV project, her role has involved conceptualizing the entire research study and developing surveys and focus groups.
“Most of the communication happens between parents and preteens or parents and providers, so we are trying to create a triad of communication between the three,” she said.
Justin Trogdon, an associate professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is a member of the research team.
He evaluates the economic costs and benefits of the project to get a sense of the resources it takes to implement the different outreach programs.
Trogdon said the low proportion of young adults getting vaccinated, in relation to the number who have the vaccine available to them, jumped out to him.
“A lot of these children and adolescents are not people who have never seen a provider or a doctor,” he said.
“So I think one of the important things that this research is doing is that it is focusing on that specific interaction at the doctor’s office and trying to take advantage of the times when the children are there, so they can get vaccinations.”