I am an HPV nerd. Years ago, I worked in reproductive and sexual health clinics conducting clinical trials. Our research group worked with various pharmaceutical companies and sponsors to develop the Cervarix vaccine and develop today’s pap smear testing products and STI testing protocols.
I still remember women’s confusion when they were told they had HPV: a virus that none of them had heard of. We explained HPV is so common almost everyone that is sexually active will become infected with unless they are vaccinated. Yet, at the time, even healthcare providers were just learning about HPV’s dangers. I heard personal stories from women and even adolescents who had health complications because of HPV, but HPV rarely gave them any signs or warnings. HPV can lay silent—but we must not be silent in order to fight cervical cancer!
Today we know human papillomavirus impacts both females and males. Despite the newest generation Gardasil-9 vaccine that prevents certain cancers, advocating for comprehensive sexual health education is challenging…especially in the Bible belt. Oklahoma is in a crisis. Our HPV vaccine uptake is among the lowest in the nation. This means disproportionate rates of HPV-associated health issues will still impact our mothers, daughters, and sisters.
Confusion over this sexually transmitted infection still exists, and I’m committed to clear the misunderstandings through my research, presentations, and partnerships across Oklahoma to raise HPV awareness. Let’s spread the facts to increase the vax!