N.YU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center has partnered with more than 70 other National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers and partner organizations to issue a joint statement urging the nation’s doctors, parents and young adults to adopt the get human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinated back on track.
The dramatic decline in annual well visits and immunizations during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a significant vaccination gap and backlog of vital preventive services among American children and adolescents – especially for the HPV vaccine.
Nearly 80 million Americans, or one in four people, are infected with HPV, a virus that causes several types of cancer. Of those millions, more than 36,000 will be diagnosed with HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering numbers and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV infections, HPV vaccination coverage remains significantly lower than other recommended vaccines for adolescents in the United States. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, HPV vaccination rates lagged far behind those of other vaccines and the HPV vaccination rates of other countries. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over half (54 percent) of the adolescents were aware of the HPV vaccine.
Those numbers have fallen dangerously since the pandemic:
Early in the pandemic, HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents fell by 75 percent, resulting in a large cohort of unvaccinated children. As of March 2020, an estimated one million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by publicly insured adolescents – a 21 percent drop from pre-pandemic levels.
“The United States is facing a significant vaccination gap, especially for adolescents, as a result of the pandemic,” said Heather Brandt, PhD., Director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and coordinator of the joint statement from NCI Cancer Centers. “Child attendance rates are down. Usual back to school adolescent vaccination activity has been limited by virtual and hybrid learning. It’s critical that we as a nation get back on track with adolescent vaccination to ensure that we protect our children and communities. “
The United States has recommended routine HPV vaccination for women since 2006 and for men since 2011. Current recommendations are for routine vaccination at the age of 11 or 12, or 9 years of age. Catch-up HPV vaccination is recommended up to age 26.
NCI-designated cancer centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently approved COVID-19 vaccination for 12- to 15-year-old children, allowing missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be given at the same time. NCI Cancer Centers are strongly urging action by health systems and providers to identify and contact adolescents who should receive vaccinations, and to use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination.
“HPV is the cause of cervical cancer and will soon be the leading cause of head and neck cancer,” said Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, director of Perlmutter Cancer Center and professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone. “Now is the perfect time to not only get teens vaccinated against COVID-19, but also to prevent them from getting these potentially deadly cancers.”
More information about HPV is available from the CDC and the 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, with a unanimous goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and caregivers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.
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