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Research Summaries

All Research Summaries

College Students' Attitudes Regarding Vaccination to Prevent Genital Herpes

Original article authored by:
Susan L. Rosenthal, PhD, Lisa M. Lewis, PhD, Paul A. Succup, PhD,
David I. Bernstein, MD, and Lawrence R. Stanberry, MD, PhD

The content of this journal article summary includes:


A total of 518 undergraduate students were recruited from psychology classes at an urban university to complete a survey on a potential genital herpes vaccine. The participants responded to survey questions that measured their acceptance of a vaccine and the predictors of acceptance. Based on existing health behavior theories, four predictors of vaccine acceptance were explored:

  1. Perceived susceptibility — (i.e., perceived chance of getting genital herpes at some point in the future)

  2. Perceived psychological severity — (i.e., perceptions of how it would be to get genital herpes)

  3. Barriers — (i.e., factors that could affect a decision to get the vaccine)

  4. Normative perceptions — (i.e., perceptions of how others would view the vaccine and perceptions of who should receive the vaccine).

Responses were compared for students who said they would get the vaccine versus those who said they were not sure or those who said they would not get it. Additionally, logistic regression was used to determine which of the factors predicted vaccine acceptance.

Key Results

  • The sample was mostly white (86%), with an average age of 20 years. Just over half (52%) of the participants were female. About four out of five were sexually experienced.

  • When asked if they would accept vaccination, 19% responded "no," 41% were not sure, and 40% responded "yes."

  • Students who indicated they would get the vaccine were more likely to be dating rather than with a steady partner, were sexually experienced, and reported having a greater number of lifetime sexual partners than were the other students in the sample.

  • Those students who believed they had a 0-5% chance of getting herpes were less likely to accept vaccination than those who felt their chances were 6% or higher.

  • The majority of the students (81%) said getting herpes would mean they had "made a mistake," and 72% said this would be the "worst thing that could happen."

  • A majority of students felt their health care providers would encourage vaccination, 61% felt that their parents would, and 46% felt their partners would.

  • Nearly all students (98-99%) thought that people who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or who have many sexual partners or a partner with genital herpes should be vaccinated. Further, 68% said "all teens" should be vaccinated, and 55% said "everyone" should be vaccinated.


  • This study examined selected psychosocial factors that may be important in the acceptance of a herpes vaccine among college youth if such a vaccine were to become available.

  • The investigators found that relatively few students (19%) would reject a herpes vaccine out-right.

  • Demographic factors (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity) did not seem to influence vaccine acceptance, but sexual history variables (e.g., sexual experience, number of lifetime partners) did.

  • Key predictors of vaccine acceptance included low cost and having an opinion that such a vaccine should be recommended for everyone. Students who were unsure if they would get such a vaccine were also influenced by the belief that the vaccine would not work.

  • The investigators identified several implications regarding vaccination against genital herpes, including minimizing cost, conducting educational campaigns addressing the risk of genital herpes and the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and recommending a policy that encourages universal vaccination rather than vaccination of selected sub-groups.

  • The investigators also noted the importance of gaining providers’ support and acceptance of such a vaccine, given their influence on patients’ decisions regarding whether or not to get vaccinated.

  • This study was conducted with a sample of mostly white college students. Further studies are needed with different populations to gain a broader understanding of issues related to the acceptance of this type of vaccine.

Rosenthal, S., Lewis, L., Succop, P., Bernstein, D., Stanberry, L. College Students’ Attitudes Regarding Vaccination to Prevent Genital Herpes. Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, 26(8), 438-43.