Although research has shown vaccines for human papillomavirus, HPV, can protect against strains of the virus that cause a variety of cancers, health officials say vaccination rates throughout the state have remained low.

The vaccination’s lack of popularity is evident in Smith County, where in 2014 the Texas Department of State Health Services estimated the vaccination coverage in the county to be 9.82 percent.

In an effort to improve the HPV vaccination rates across Texas, the Texas Medical Association, TMA, is aiming to get more college-aged students, specifically 17-24 year-olds, vaccinated.

Tyler, along with San Angelo, was recently selected by the TMA to be the target of a social media campaign to educate more people about the vaccine.

Additionally, the Smith County Medical Society has received a grant from the TMA Foundation to help immunize college students at Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler.

Health officials say that for many people who catch HPV it eventually goes away on its own, but for some it can cause serious health problems.

“Having a vaccine available that can prevent so many different cancers is incredible,” said Dr. Li Y Mitchell, the past president of the Smith County Medical Society. “As a physician I have always recommended the HPV series of vaccines to my patients, and as a parent, my three kids will definitely be getting the shots.”

Currently nearly 80 million people — about one in four — are currently infected in the United States, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HPV cancers include cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or throat. Another strain of HPV can cause cancer in the back of the throat. Some strains can also cause genital warts.

Northeast Texas Health District Immunizations and Tuberculosis director Sylvia Warren said that it’s recommended that both boys and girls get the shot at age 11.

The shot is not a requirement, unlike some shots like the Tdap. Both Dr. Mitchell and Warren said that because of HPV’s link with sexual activity it has become a hard sell for parents who are deciding weather or not to get their child immunized with the vaccine.

Males and females can get the shot until age 26. The age of the recipient can determine amount of shots they individual will need.

“People don’t realize that you don’t always have symptoms and it could be years that have gone by that you don’t know you have it and you pass it on,” Warren said.

If you go: Tyler Junior College students who qualify can receive free vaccinations against human papillomavirus on Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information, contact the Smith County Medical Society at 903-593-7058.