Published July 31, 2015

Clinicians have a “golden moment for education” of teenage girls and their mothers during a girl’s first vaccination against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).

A team from the Division of Adolescent and Transition Medicine interviewed 25 teen girls and their mothers four times over 30 months after a girl’s first HPV vaccine at age 11-12. The researchers were interested in determining whether receiving the vaccine would improve understanding of other STD risks or affect sexual activity. Their findings were published July 31, 2015, in Vaccine.

Although HPV knowledge was poor at baseline, researchers found that most girls developed accurate HPV risk perceptions by 30 months. However, only half developed accurate risk perceptions about other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Those who were increasingly knowledgeable about HPV were better able to articulate other STD risks and less likely to initiate sexual activity. The majority of teen girls also thought practicing safer sex was still important after vaccination, regardless of their knowledge level, risk perceptions, or sexual experience.

The initial vaccine visit, not follow-up booster visits, proved to be the primary opportunity to provide accurate information about infection risks and safer sex.

"Knowledge is such an incredible tool for understanding risk perceptions about safer sex,” says Tanya Mullins, MD, MS. “Most of the knowledge gained after that first vaccine visit was from outside the clinical setting—from the school or from moms."

Mullins says the study should assure clinicians that their discussions about vaccines and STDs with teen girls have an impact. “However, we can do better, because there are girls who aren’t hearing the information at that first visit or who aren’t internalizing it."