Facebook-based recruitment and online surveys are effective in estimating local variation in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine uptake among young men and women, according to University of Minnesota researchers.

In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, men and women 18-30 years of age were recruited by location (within a 25-mile radius of Minneapolis) via a targeted Facebook advertisement campaign to complete an online survey about HPV vaccination practices. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is a cause of cervical cancer.

“Although national and state level data are available, local (i.e., county and postal code level) data are not due to small sample sizes, confidentiality concerns, and cost,” states the article. “Local level HPV vaccine uptake data may be feasible to obtain by targeting specific geographic areas through social media advertising and recruitment strategies, in combination with online surveys.”

Of the 2,079 men and women who responded to the Facebook advertisements and visited the study website, 48.2 percent enrolled in the study and completed the survey. The average advertising cost per completed survey was $1.36. Receipt of 1 dose or more of HPV vaccine was reported by 65.6 percent of women, and 13 percent of men. The results differ from previously reported Minnesota state level estimates (53.8 percent for young women and 20.8 percent for young men) and from national estimates (34.5 percent for women and 2.3 percent for men).

Although federally-funded surveys of HPV vaccine uptake are important for pinpointing geographically based health disparities, the article finds that local data from these surveys are routinely suppressed and aggregated to state boundaries in order to protect the confidentiality of survey respondents, which means that variations at a local level cannot be adequately assessed. In addition, these surveys have primarily surveyed adolescent girls while HPV vaccination practice data for adolescent boys is limited. Researchers claim this is the first study in the U.S. to estimate local level vaccination uptake among young men.

“This study shows that recruiting a representative sample of young men and women based on county and postal code location to complete a survey on HPV vaccination uptake via the Internet is a cost-effective and feasible strategy,” conclude researchers. “This study also highlights the need for local estimates to assess the variation in HPV vaccine uptake, as these estimates differ considerably from those obtained using survey data that are aggregated to the state or federal level.”

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