Just three vaccines are needed to prevent six cancers.

Grandmother Power is coming to Pittsburgh to spread the message that some cancers are actually preventable, if parents will only get their kids vaccinated against HPV.

Grandmother Power brings grandmas together to advocate all over the world. For example, they’ve brought electricity to an Indian village and literacy skills to kids in South America. And now starting this Friday in Pittsburgh, they’ll be part of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s (JHF) latest healthy Pittsburgh campaign.

“If there’s a vaccine to prevent cancer, wouldn’t you get it for your kids?” says Laurie Gottlieb, JHF spokesperson.

And yet, surprisingly, parents don’t do it often enough.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found this past July that just 57 percent of teen girls and 35 percent of teen boys got one or more of the recommended three doses of the HPV vaccine. Only 38 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys got the full dose.

Yet this vaccine prevents six different types of cancers that affect about 26,000 people each year.

Part of the problem is that HPV, the human papilloma virus, might affect a quarter of the U.S. population at one time or another, but most people fight it off naturally—and there are no symptoms. The main part of the problem, though, is likely that HPV is an STD, and that the vaccine is recommended to start for kids at age 11, when most parents are not thinking seriously about their kids’ sexual future.

That doesn’t prevent parents from getting the hepatitis B vaccine for their kids, Gottlieb points out, but the newer, lesser known HPV vaccine needs to become universally known, even required for school attendance, as it is in Australia. The HPV vaccine has been shown to be particularly safe, she adds, and is OK for people up to age 26.

JHF’s successful healthcare campaigns have included KidShot, encouraging measles vaccinations. With the Grandmother Power movement, “our goal is to blanket the greater Pittsburgh community” with their message, she says. “We’re looking to build up a large portfolio of grassroots efforts. Wouldn’t this be an amazing thing to bring to Pittsburgh?”

The first meeting of these grassroots grannies will be Sept. 19, 9-11 a.m., at Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh. Attendees are asked to RSVP to the JHF at gottlieb@jhf.org.

The JHF has mustered help from a multitude of organizations for this local campaign, including a grant from the Grable Foundation. It has a local advisory committee working on enlisting parents and healthcare providers in the fight, advocating for immunization access for special child populations and measuring how successful the campaign turns out to be.

“Our goal is pulling in lots of partners to make this happen,” Gottlieb says. “We want to mobilize the community. You can’t protect your child against everything, but you can protect your child against HPV-related cancers.”

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, Salon.com and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.