U.S. Rep Kathy Castor is endorsing a huge push to help educate parents on the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes cervical cancer.
Castor invited students, doctors and health officials to speak Monday in front a local pediatrician’s office.
She chose the location to emphasize the importance of educating parents, particularly in their conversations with physicians.
“The state of Florida has the lowest vaccination rates for HPV in the entire country, and we have to turn this around," Castor said. "We have to increase the vaccination rate here in Florida. We cannot stand for having the lowest vaccination rate in the country."
The goal of the coalition is to spread the word and to clarify misconceptions of the virus.
The vaccine is given to middle school children, the ideal age from 9 to 12. Some parents fear getting the vaccine equates to giving permission for their child to be sexually active. Doctors stress that's a misconception.
"One thing about the HPV vaccine that parents get concerned about is that it is for a sexually transmitted infection. But in reality someday all of our children will be sexually active, and we want them to be protected when they are," said Dr. Diane Straub of the University of South Florida.
Anna Guiliano, the director for the Center for Infection Research at Moffitt Cancer Center, stressed the importance of getting the vaccine to prevent multiple cancers.
"There is one bottom line here: We have an unprecedented opportunity to prevent multiple cancers in both males and females with one vaccine," said Guiliano. "If everyone understood they can actually prevent not just one cancer but six cancers in males and females with nearly 100 percent efficacy, I think we would be number one in the country for vaccinations. We need to get that message out.”
Kristi Hewitt, a mother of two, agrees. Her children are only 7 and 4. She is a huge believer in the HPV vaccine because of her own personal experience.
"I had only one partner. I was surprised that I was diagnosed with HPV. Doctors ended up lasering off the cells because they were pre-cancerous," said Hewitt.
Hewitt started researching the vaccine when it was introduced six years ago. For her the decision is made.
"For sure I will do it. I will get both my son and daughter vaccinated," said Hewitt.
But it's not a clear choice for Hewitt's close friend, Laura Bray, who has three children.
"It kinds of needs to be [an] education along with this vaccine," Bray said.
That is what the coalition plans to do: Educate parents. The coalition will saturate media and make a push to get student groups and pediatricians to spread the word.
"If you can get three shots to prevent cervical cancer and oral cancers, that is revolutionary around the globe," said Castor.
Doctors believe Florida ranks at the bottom of the list because, unlike in most states, you can't get an HPV shot at the pharmacy.
Doctors and officials do stress cost should not be a factor.
Insurance typically covers the vaccine. Eligible families can get it at no charge through the health department
or through a federal program called "Vaccines for Children" to learn more head to www.tampachc.com .