The University of Texas at Austin Latino Research Initiative

In South Texas, researchers listen to the language of worry

Mon, October 8, 2018
In South Texas, researchers listen to the language of worry
"What role do fathers play in HPV vaccine uptake?"

Written by Jessie Temple

Promiscuity was a word the fathers used. Gathered in a room in a South Texas community center, they compared their fears. They understood that the HPV vaccine could protect their daughters against cervical cancer, but at what risk? Would the girls be more likely to become sexually active? In another room, the mothers had other concerns. What if their daughters had partners who were unfaithful? Would that increase their risk of contracting HPV? And could you catch HPV from a toilet seat?

For researchers from a team led by Dr. Daisy Morales-Campos of the Latino Research Initiative, every word of these parents, gathered through focus groups and recorded for careful analysis, is important. Latina girls are far less likely than their white peers to start and/or complete the HPV vaccine series, which has been proven to prevent cancer. At the same time, Latina women are far more likely than their white peers to develop cervical cancer. So what factors are preventing young Latinas from starting and/or finishing the vaccine series? For the research team, the worries expressed by the parents, and the words used to express those worries, are clues. In South Texas and across the globe, statistics are shaped by stories: think of overweight golfers joking about the weight loss benefits of Fen Phen, nursing mothers sharing tricks for making the milk come in, athletes comparing different protein diets.

For Dr. Morales-Campos,  this study offered the opportunity to study a familiar question from a specific new angle: what role do fathers play in HPV vaccine uptake? Previous research has focused on the role of mothers in facilitating their daughters’ vaccination, but the role of fathers has largely gone unexamined. Sexual stigma is a strong story. By understanding and addressing fathers’ worries about the HPV vaccine, medical professionals and policy makers can improve health outcomes for young Latinas.

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