Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series examining federal funding for behavior modification approaches to increase uptake among teens of the human papillomavirus vaccine.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is funding a scientist who also is a paid consultant for Merck to conduct research on how to increase teen uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, documents obtained by Children’s Health Defense (CHD) via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed.
Merck manufactures Gardasil, the only HPV vaccine available in the U.S.
Documents show that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the HHS in 2021 awarded a $4.7 million, five-year grant to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
The grant’s principal investigator, Noel Brewer, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, consults for Merck and is also the recipient of commercial research grants from Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
The HHS grant builds on Brewer’s previous industry and HHS-funded research investigating different “research-tested interventions” intended to reshape the behavior of physicians and patients by “improving” the ways providers “announce” the vaccine to potential recipients, in order to get more teens to take the HPV vaccine.
The grant is focused on further developing “Announcement Approach Training,” which involves having providers skip the step of discussing with families in “open-ended conversation” whether or not they want their child vaccinated for HPV and instead “presume” the family wants the vaccine and announce the child will receive it as if it were a routine part of the office visit.
Brewer and others’ previous research has shown this method reduces the time a provider needs to spend talking with their patients and increases vaccine uptake.
Other projects funded by the grant consist of conducting randomized controlled trials to see how best to get clinics and clinicians to implement this approach to increase HPV vaccine uptake, according to the FOIA documents obtained by CHD.
One trial investigates how clinics can rework their “standing orders” — the protocols for all practitioners — to standardize how clinicians talk to their patients, for example, using the announcement approach, or to otherwise change the nature of doctor-patient interactions….