Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HPV Vaccination: What Pharmacists Need to Know

Lately, I’ve been browsing through some of rxBriefCase’s CE programs and wondering which one would be of particular value to pharmacists. I thought I’d share one with you all – Counselling your Patients on HPV Vaccines.

Why is it important to be aware of this topic? A while back, I was asked by a male friend (mid 20s) what my professional opinion was on HPV vaccinations for males. His physician had recently recommended that he consider having the vaccination and that he should do some research on it. Lost and anxious, he naturally turned to a pharmacist (or pharmacy student – me). At that moment, I realized I knew very little about this topic, except from what was conveyed on those HPV campaigns on television, since it wasn’t covered in Pharmacy School. This is probably the case for many practicing pharmacists. For those who are more aware of the issue, the reality is that it’s hard to have that initial conversation with a patient as it is a touchy subject.

HPV ranks as one of the top most common sexually transmitted diseases in Canada, and 3 out of 4 Canadians will have an HPV infection some time in their life1. It affects both women and men. Almost all incidence of cervical cancer are caused by the virus. It can also lead to genital warts, and cancer of the throat, penis, vulva, vagina, and anus1. Early vaccination has the potential to prevent infection with the viruses that most commonly cause some of these cancers.

Top Five Highlights of the CE Program

  1. Videos tackling communication issues. The module contains practical videos of clinicians speaking to patients about the issue. For many pharmacists, the toughest part is initiating the conversation.
A screenshot from the section: Discussing HPV Protection in your Practice. Watch the video here

  1. Strategies to tackle myths. The video shows a clinician having an open discussion with a patient about common myths surrounding HPV and vaccination to alleviate any fears and to empower the patient to manage their health. Many patients in practice will have these questions as they will have heard of this topic from television ads, subway ads, friends, and family. It is useful to see how to approach this with effective communication.

  1. Clinician FAQs and answers in a reader-friendly format.  The charts provided in the CE address common clinician concerns for their patients, and serves as a great reference in practice. In the anecdote about my friend, physicians may not have as much time to address all of the patient’s concerns. Pharmacists must step in to help patients.  As pharmacists’ role in vaccination is rapidly increasing across Canada, we must be prepared to address our patients’ concerns.
Table: Immunization Issues that Commonly Occur in Primary Care - view the full table here
  1. To recommend or not to recommend… Tools to guide clinicians. The module contains a couple charts that help clinicians identify which of their patients are at a higher risk of HPV infection. Pharmacists usually know their patients well and knowing the risk factors can help them pick out which patients to talk to. The module also gives a succinct summary of efficacy and safety evidence for the vaccine. This is especially important since some provinces do not cover the cost of HPV vaccination outside of the predefined patient group, so weighing and discussing the risks and benefits of vaccination with your patient becomes particularly important.

  1. Insightful discussions from around the nation. The Discussion Forum features hot issues about the topic with the insightful thoughts of healthcare practitioners across Canada.

Pharmacists are often a patient’s first point of contact with the healthcare system and the vaccine is now available for girls in every public school in Canada2. So chances are, whether you’re comfortable or not, people are going to ask you about this. It’s important to be equipped with the proper tools to help our patients.

Take the CE here: Counselling your Patients on HPV Vaccines


  1. Cotter, J. (2014, May 27). Last publicly-funded school board to allow HPV vaccine: advocacy group. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from CTV News: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/last-publicly-funded-school-board-to-allow-hpv-vaccine-advocacy-group-1.1840330
  2. Government of Canada. (2013, April 2). Sexual health: Human papillomavirus (HPV). Retrieved May 30, 2014, from Healthy Canadians: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/health-sante/sexual-sexuelle/hpv-vph-eng.php