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Dornsife Researcher Awarded $1.83 Million to Study Social Media as a Tool for HPV Prevention

View of person's phone and their social media apps

September 16, 2019

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Nearly 80 percent of sexually active people contract it during their lifetime, increasing their risk for several cancers. For this reason, preventing HPV infection may contribute an estimated 92 percent reduction in those cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This scenario underscores the importance of prevention, especially in people under 18, who may not have become sexually active, yet HPV vaccine rates are low. “HPV vaccination rates still lag behind similarly-timed vaccines,” says Philip Massey, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the department of Community Health and Prevention at Dornsife, the lead investigator for a new $1.83 million, R01 grant designed to increase vaccination rates by educating parents through social media. 

“To the best of my knowledge, our study will be the first to test narrative engagement theory — storytelling — as a mechanism to deliver evidence-based information through social media to parents to support their decision-making process when getting the HPV vaccine for their child,” says Massey. 

“Our goal is to provide this information to parents in our intervention by introducing them to characters who may be like them, who are hardworking parents, but who may also struggle with health-related decisions and differentiating between fact and fiction. Given the near ubiquitous use of social media, the potential impact is truly at the population level – as millions of parents use social media for information on health and parenting,” Massey explains.