Timing Is Everything: Exploring Parental Decisions to Delay HPV Vaccination

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The delayed uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine offers an opportunity to explore how temporality and risk are at work in everyday life. Drawing from a mixed-methods study with parents (N = 50) in Northern California, this study explored parents’ decision to delay HPV vaccination for their children among parents who had not yet vaccinated (n = 27). At the core of these decisions were temporal assessments of risk whereby parents weighed their child’s (perceived) present risk of HPV exposure against the uncertain perceived risks of the vaccine itself. Our findings are promising as they indicate that given time, and the continued growth of evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of HPV vaccination, completion rates should increase. However, our results also suggest that vaccination delays are not merely a matter of scientific doubt but also based on parents’ (potentially inaccurate) perceptions of their child’s sexual readiness, and thus potentially more difficult to overcome.

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