Virtual focus groups uncover clues to rural and urban HPV vaccination disparities

March 14, 2019

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center and Dartmouth College are using social media to understand differences in attitudes about human papillomavirus vaccination among hundreds of thousands of parents in rural and urban areas. 

Using a generic, unbranded health page they created on Facebook, the researchers developed a series of posts to pose more than 30 HPV-related questions to parents in Vermont and New Hampshire. By targeting specific ZIP codes, they were able to reach parents in primarily rural and urban areas.

The researchers used text-based analyses to review the comments and identify potential factors and linguistic patterns underlying parental decisions about HPV vaccinations. In comparison to their urban peers, they found that parents in rural areas were more likely to use emotional language, words with certainty and biology related words.

“Our goal was to use an evidence-based approach to understand why parents in rural areas have or have not vaccinated their children against HPV,” said Sunny Jun Kim, Ph.D., a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control program at Massey and lead researcher on the study. “To do this at a relatively low cost, we conducted virtual focus groups on Facebook and then analyzed the comments to uncover trends and other insights.” 

Read more on VCU News.