African American adolescent males who have sex with males (MSMs) have a high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that has been directly linked to lack of access to primary care providers and reluctance to disclose their sexuality. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD with more than 40 different serotypes and can lead to anal/genital warts as well as oral and genital cancers. The HPV vaccine if taken prior to an adolescent becoming sexually active serves a prophylactic function. The HPV vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for girls and boys; however, HPV vaccination rates among adolescents within different minority and underserved communities have been disappointing even though these groups are disproportionately infected with the HPV virus and certain male-specific cancers. Little is known about the uptake of the vaccine among African American MSMs and thus the aim of this study. This qualitative study is based on the health belief model and assessed participants' level of awareness of HPV, the HPV vaccine, and HPV-related illnesses among 24 African American male adolescents between 16 and 18 years old who self identify as MSMs. As part of a larger study, two focus groups were conducted for African American MSMs. Participants failed to understand their potential risk for HPV given the higher rates of STD infection experienced by MSMs. They expressed very little knowledge of the HPV vaccine and are also not aware of the complications of HPV virus infection. However, they were very eager to know more about the virus and the vaccine. This study demonstrates the need for the development of health communication intervention and more research targeting African American MSMs and also the need for policy change towards making the HPV vaccine routine for males especially adolescents at no cost.
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