How stigma dissuades people from getting vaccinated, screened against HPV 

The reasons why people opt not to get a particular vaccine can be complicated. University of Illinois Chicago’s Caryn Peterson does research that zeros in on one potential factor of vaccine hesitancy: social stigma. 

Her work looks at how public stigma, shame and blame play a role in vaccination and screening rates for the human papillomavirus. 

“If you are stigmatized by behavior or a health condition, this can reduce your likelihood of seeking care,” Peterson said in an article for the School of Public Health, where she is a research assistant professor. She also co-directs the UIC Cancer Health Equity and Career Development Program and is a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center. 

She has found that shaming and blaming beliefs persist for HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer. These beliefs posit that HPV and cervical cancer are the result of “incautious behavior,” such as having multiple sexual partners, when that is inaccurate. She also has found that when it comes to HPV, women bear more of the stigma than men, even though both genders can get HPV. 

Understanding the role of stigma is important so that policies can be enacted to reduce it.  

“The elements of stigma are potent risk factors for health-seeking behavior that need to be considered in health education as well as in interventions,” Peterson said in the School of Public Health article.

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