Omaha, NE (May 20, 2021) The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center has partnered with 71 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and partner organizations to issue a joint statement urging the nation’s physicians, parents and young adults to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track.
Dramatic drops in annual well visits and immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a significant vaccination gap and lag in vital preventive services among U.S. children and adolescents—especially for the HPV vaccine.
“The HPV vaccine prevents the infection of HPV, or the virus that causes HPV-related cancers, such as cervical cancer,” said Ken Cowan, MD, PhD, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Parents who are taking their children and adolescents for the COVID-19 vaccine can inquire with their health care providers about the HPV vaccine. Both girls and boys can receive the HPV vaccine, and parents can know that when their children receive this, they are doing everything they can to prevent their children from potentially developing this type of cancer.”
Nearly 80 million Americans – one out of every four people – are infected with HPV, a virus that causes several types of cancers. Of those millions, more than 36,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV infections, HPV vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, HPV vaccination rates lagged far behind other vaccines and other countries’ HPV vaccination rates. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), slightly more than half (54%) of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine. Those numbers have declined dangerously since the pandemic:
“The U.S. is facing a significant vaccination gap, especially for adolescents, due to the pandemic,” said Heather Brandt, PhD, director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and coordinator for the joint statement from NCI Cancer Centers. “Well-child visits are down. Usual ‘back to school’ vaccination activity for adolescents has been limited by virtual and hybrid learning. It is crucial that we get back on track as a nation with adolescent vaccination to ensure we protect our children and communities.”
The U.S. has recommended routine HPV vaccination for females since 2006, and for males since 2011. Current recommendations are for routine vaccination at ages 11 or 12 or starting at age 9. Catch-up HPV vaccination is recommended through age 26.
NCI Cancer Centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently authorized COVID-19 vaccination for 12-15-year-old children allowing for missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be administered at the same time. NCI Cancer Centers strongly urge action by health care systems and health care providers to identify and contact adolescents due for vaccinations and to use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination.
More information on HPV is available from the CDC and National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. This is the third time that all NCI-designated cancer centers have come together to issue a national call to action. All 71 cancer centers unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.