CCSD students come together campaign for Operation Wipe Out

Published 8:00 am Thursday, December 14, 2023

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About 30 students from the Valley and LaFayette High School’s Health Science classes have joined together to make a campaign promoting information about Operation Wipe Out initiative in Chambers County. They hope to launch the campaign after Christmas and host vaccine clinics by the end of the school year.

Valley Health Science Teacher Jennifer Williams said the goal is to get information out about cervical cancer and the HPV vaccination so parents can make an informed decision.

“Education is a vital part of health science,” Williams said.

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Operation Wipe Out began in November 2021 with Executive Director of TogetHER for Health Dr. Heather White and Dr. Isabel Scarinci from University of Alabama in Birmingham. The HPV vaccine that is taken in childhood can help prevent the cancer, which is caused by the virus.

Valley High students Lily Mayner and David Paschal said they have learned a lot while doing research for their campaign, not only about cervical cancer but also about marketing, financial literacy and building connections with the community.

“I have some of the smartest kids in the county, and I have every confidence in them that they can do this,” Williams said. 

LaFayette High student Madyson Fuzzell said she has enjoyed getting to learn about this issue and work with the other students to take action and get the message out to the community.

“What was exciting for me was to see LaFayette High School and Valley High School come together and try to help each other and help others to try to understand what’s going on with cervical cancer,” Fuzzell said. 

Alabama is among the highest rates of cervical cancer, ranking almost 50% higher than the rest of the U.S., with Chambers County having the highest mortality rates in the state. According to the National Institute of Health, 28% of women in the U.S. who had abnormal results reported not following up on their results. 

“It was staggering to me and alarming to me that the numbers were as high as they were,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Casey Chambley. 

However, it can be treated and prevented through HPV vaccination and regular cancer screenings. Unlike in foreign countries where TogetHER for Health serves, these resources are free and easy to access through the state’s Department of Public Health early detection program.

“It’s gone a lot further than it should have,” Williams said. “It’s preventable.”

The CCSD Health Science students have been working to launch their campaign, slogan and logo, after the Christmas break. Near the end of the school year, the schools will host more vaccination clinics, which provide a free and easy resource for families.

“Our job is not to promote the vaccine but to educate about the vaccine,” Chambley said.

Mayner said part of the problem is that people don’t always understand the risks of HPV. The cervical cancer rates are higher because of the healthcare disparity and lack of knowledge that many in the county face.  Fuzzell said she hopes that the local clinics can also help provide resources. Mayner said she hopes that a Women’s Health Clinic can be opened in Valley. 

To better understand where those gaps in knowledge fall, the students asked family and friends what questions or misconceptions they might have about HPV or the vaccine. Paschal said he was surprised to learn that many people didn’t know that men could contract the virus. 

Though it is recommended for children starting at 9 years old, the vaccine can be taken by people up to the age of 26 and still be effective. 

Chambley and the district’s nurses have been involved with the project for the past year. He said in the trailer that when they learned that Chambers County was leading the state in cervical cancer, he hoped not just to provide vaccines but also provide education. 

“It’s our job to educate,” Chambley said. “… We thought there’s more that we can do.”

Last year, the former school district Lead Nurse Loretta Cofield met with Operation Wipe Out and her school nurses to learn more about the vaccine and how they can spread awareness. They began to offer vaccines to students who have parental permission.