Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research Study: Information Framing Affects Americans' Intentions to Vaccinate Against HPV

A study by researchers at the Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research at the Annenberg School found that the way the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is described can impact women's intentions to vaccinate. This research was presented in Boston at the American Association for Cancer Research's 5th Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

In June 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine that prevents HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States and the leading cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine was approved for females as young as 9, and its success depends largely on parents' and individuals' willingness to request the vaccine. Through the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey (ANHCS), a nationally representative sample of 635 U.S. adults over the age of 18 (49% of whom were women) was randomly assigned to read one of three variations of a paragraph describing the vaccine.

Paragraphs addressed one of the following: the vaccine protects against cervical cancer; the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection; or the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection, and may or may not lead to increased sexual promiscuity among those vaccinated. The survey was then administered to determine participants' intentions to vaccinate.

Survey results found that more than half of respondents (57 percent) had ever heard of HPV, and 56 percent of respondents reported having seen or heard news or advertisements about HPV in the past week. Although 42 percent of respondents had heard about the HPV vaccine, 80 percent indicated never having talked to a health care provider about the virus. When women read that the vaccine protects only against cervical cancer, 63 percent indicated that they were "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to get the vaccine, whereas the women who read that the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and an STI responded "very likely" or "somewhat likely" only 43 percent of the time.

"Despite high levels of exposure to and awareness of the newly approved HPV vaccine, intentions to vaccinate are mixed," said Amy Leader, MPH, a Research Director at Annenberg's Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research. "Trends indicate that intentions are highest when the vaccine is framed to solely prevent cervical cancer and lowest when the vaccine is framed to prevent both cervical cancer and an STI, indicating that people may feel the need for an STI vaccine is personally unnecessary."

The Annenberg National Health Communication Survey is made possible through support from the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn.

"The Annenberg National Health Care Survey makes it possible for us to be responsive to fast-breaking developments in health care and health care policy. The survey gives an ongoing monthly picture of the public's health communication practices," said Annenberg Professor Joseph Cappella. "It also allows us to assess the public’s responses to health innovations including how different ways of communicating about them will bias their reactions. The approval of the HPV vaccine needed a quick evaluation with women nationally. How the vaccine was framed affected women’s intentions to get it."

Founded in 1958 through the generosity and vision of diplomat and philanthropist Walter Annenberg, the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn is devoted to furthering the understanding of the role of communication in public life through research, education and service. The Annenberg Foundation is a private foundation established in 1989. It exists to advance the public well being through improved communication.