News Release

Community health van increases access to a vaccine that helps to prevent six types of cancer

A joint initiative by MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and the Department of Pediatrics helps to increase access to human papillomavirus vaccination in underserved communities.

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Medical University of South Carolina

MUSC Hollings Community Health Van

image: Pictured from left to right:: Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center community health van team members Mina Platt, Dr. Marvella Ford, Melanie Slan and Joan McLauren. view more 

Credit: Medical University of South Carolina

In a joint initiative that includes Hollings Cancer Center and the Department of Pediatrics, MUSC researchers launched a community mobile health van in 2021 to help to increase access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in underserved communities.

HPV is linked to six different kinds of cancer, including cervical, throat, anal, penile, vaginal and vulvar, and almost 40,000 new cancer cases each year in the U.S. Fortunately, a safe and effective vaccine is available for those between the ages of 9 and 45 to help to prevent these cancers.

“This is one of the few opportunities where we can prevent cancer with a vaccine,” said Hollings Cancer Center researcher Marvella Ford, Ph.D., associate director of Population Science and Community Outreach and Engagement.

In 2016, South Carolina ranked last in the U.S. in HPV vaccination rates. This alarming statistic led to an initiative by pediatricians from across the state and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center to increase access to and uptake of the vaccine.

“The fact that South Carolina was the last in the country for HPV vaccination prompted a lot of effort among South Carolina pediatric practices to improve the HPV vaccination rate,” said MUSC Children’s Health pediatrician James Roberts, M.D.

To complement those efforts, Ford and Roberts teamed up to launch the MUSC Hollings community health van in October of 2021 with funding from Healthy Me-Healthy South Carolina and the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute. Ford and Roberts had noted that some of the lowest rates of vaccination were seen in the state’s underserved and rural communities. The community health van travels to these communities, providing access to the HPV vaccine and other childhood vaccines. The MUSC team reports encouraging data from the first year of the program in a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

Although the vaccine can be given between the ages of 9 and 45, the community health van focuses on vaccinating children between the ages of 9 and 18 because the vaccine is more effective when given at an earlier age, and medically underserved children in this age group are covered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccines for Children Program. Both girls and boys are vaccinated.

“People sometimes think this vaccine is only for girls and women, but it is important for everyone to receive the vaccine,” said Ford.

Roberts points out that the vaccine is extremely safe because it contains no actual virus, only virus-like particles, meaning there is no chance of infection from the vaccine. These virus-like particles trigger the body’s defense, or immune system, and readies it to fight against future HPV infection.

In its first year, the community health van reached children in 21 of South Carolina’s 46 counties. The initiative began at a town hall meeting in Cherokee County, which had the lowest HPV vaccination rate in the state. Local community members gave testimonials about the importance of HPV vaccination, and the MUSC team answered questions. A video of this townhall event was made available to many other school districts across the state and has been watched more than 6,000 times.

Building on these early successes, Ford and Roberts hope to continue to expand the initiative to other counties in the state by partnering with school districts and community champions. The initiative includes educational sessions with parents of children eligible to receive the vaccine. During these sessions, researchers will evaluate parents’ perceptions, attitudes and beliefs about the HPV vaccine as well as their intentions to get their children vaccinated.

The community health van team also hopes to build on existing partnerships, such as that of MUSC and South Carolina State University, a historically Black university. The institutions jointly run the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center (SC CADRE), which aims to build cancer health equity through research. SC CADRE provides selected SCSU students, known as scholars, the opportunity to join research teams at MUSC during the summer. One of those scholars, I’Ayana Sanders, is a co-author of the article and will help to enter and analyze data from the pre- and post-HPV educational sessions with parents to analyze the efficacy of the intervention.

Thanks to the combined efforts of pediatricians across the state and MUSC initiatives like the community health van, HPV vaccination rates in South Carolina are now on par with those of other states.

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About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the state’s only comprehensive academic health system, with a unique mission to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates more than 3,200 students in six colleges – Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy – and trains more than 900 residents and fellows in its health system. MUSC brought in more than $298 million in research funds in fiscal year 2022, leading the state overall in research funding. MUSC also leads the state in federal and National Institutes of Health funding, with more than $220 million. For information on academic programs, visit

As the health care system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest-quality and safest patient care while educating and training generations of outstanding health care providers and leaders to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Patient care is provided at 16 hospitals (includes owned and equity stake), with approximately 2,700 beds and four additional hospital locations in development; more than 350 telehealth sites and connectivity to patients’ homes; and nearly 750 care locations situated in all regions of South Carolina. In 2022, for the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit

MUSC has a total enterprise annual operating budget of $5.1 billion. The nearly 26,000 MUSC family members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers, scientists, students, affiliates and care team members who deliver groundbreaking education, research, and patient care.

About  MUSC Hollings Cancer Center 

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is South Carolina’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center with the largest academic-based cancer research program in the state. The cancer center comprises more than 130 faculty cancer scientists and 20 academic departments. It has an annual research funding portfolio of more than $44 million and sponsors more than 200 clinical trials across the state. Dedicated to preventing and reducing the cancer burden statewide, the Hollings Office of Community Outreach and Engagement works with community organizations to bring cancer education and prevention information to affected populations. Hollings offers state-of-the-art cancer screening, diagnostic capabilities, therapies and surgical techniques within its multidisciplinary clinics. Hollings specialists include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, psychologists and other clinical providers equipped to provide the full range of cancer care. For more information, visit

About the SCTR Institute

The South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute is the catalyst for changing the culture of biomedical research, facilitating the sharing of resources and expertise and streamlining research-related processes to bring about large-scale change in clinical and translational research efforts in South Carolina. Our vision is to improve health outcomes and quality of life for the population through discoveries translated into evidence-based practice. To learn more, visit


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