A majority of primary care physicians recommended the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to children aged 11-12 years and older, and about half of them used a presumptive style to recommend the vaccine, based on survey responses from 530 clinicians.

“Because of the crucial role of provider recommendation in parental decisions to vaccinate, a great deal of research and intervention efforts have been focused on improving provider communication regarding HPV vaccination,” Allison Kempe, MD, of the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado, Aurora, and her colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.

Dr. Allison Kempe

“A presumptive style of initiating HPV vaccine discussions uses words that convey an assumption of vaccination and does not discuss the HPV vaccine in a different manner than other adolescent vaccines,” the authors explained. By contrast, “a conversational style engages parents in an open-ended discussion about the HPV vaccine without linguistic presupposition of vaccination.” Findings from multiple studies have shown that the presumptive approach is associated with higher acceptance of the HPV vaccine, compared with the conversational approach.

The researchers examined survey responses from a nationally representative sample of 302 pediatricians and 228 family physicians. Almost all clinicians in both specialties (99% of pediatricians, 90% of FPs) said they strongly recommended the HPV vaccine for girls aged 15 years and older. Strong recommendations for the HPV vaccine were lowest in both specialties for boys aged 11-12 years (83% of pediatricians, 66% of FPs).

Significantly more pediatricians than FPs reported using a presumptive style when discussing the HPV vaccine (65% vs. 42%, respectively; P <.0001). Overall, 40% of the survey respondents used standing orders for HPV vaccination and 42% had electronic alerts in patients’ medical records to prompt an HPV vaccine discussion.

The proportion of pediatricians who reported a vaccine refusal or deferral rate of 50% or higher for patients aged 11-12 years was 10% for girls and 23% for boys; among FPs, those percentages were 27% for girls and 36% for boys.

In multivariate analysis, the factors associated with a 50% or higher refusal or deferral rate among 11- to 12-year-olds were similar for both genders and included “not strongly recommending [the vaccine] to 11- to 12-year-old patients, not … always using a presumptive recommendation style, strongly agreeing that they encounter less resistance to HPV vaccination from patients aged 13 years versus patients aged 11 years, and anticipating an uncomfortable discussion when recommending to 11- to 12-year-old patients,” the researchers wrote.

More physicians in both specialties made stronger recommendations for HPV vaccination for patients aged 13 years and older than for those aged 11 and 12 years. However, physicians might overestimate parent and patient resistance to a strong recommendation for the HPV vaccine. A strong recommendation, “delivered in the same way as for other adolescent vaccines and on same day as other adolescent vaccines, may be key to increasing acceptance among parents of 11- to 12-year-old patients,” Dr. Kempe and associates said.

The current two-dose vaccine schedule also promoted complete vaccination, according to a majority of pediatricians and FPs.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the use of self-reports and the potential lack of generalizability of the survey responses. The results, however, were strengthened by the large, nationally representative sample and suggest that the number of physicians who strongly recommend HPV vaccination to 11- and 12-year-olds has increased over the past 5 years, they said.

“Increased use of available communication training materials and applications, as well as further development of evidence-based messages for parents, may be helpful in improving the way HPV is introduced,” the investigators concluded.

The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers reported that they had no financial conflicts.

SOURCE: Kempe A et al. Pediatrics. 2019 Sep 16. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-1475.