Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University has partnered with all 71 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.
Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 out of every 4 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:
Early in the pandemic, HPV vaccination rates among adolescents fell by 75%, resulting in a large cohort of unvaccinated children.
Since March 2020, an estimated one million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by adolescents with public insurance— a decline of 21% over pre-pandemic levels.
In Georgia, the HPV vaccination rate in 2019 was 50 percent, according to CDC data. That means the state was already below the national average heading into the pandemic.
"The drops in medical care visits during the pandemic have significantly impacted our vaccination coverage across the country, and in Georgia," said Robert A. Bednarczyk, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.
"We need to focus on getting back on track for routine adolescent vaccination following these drops in well-child visits and regular 'back to school' vaccination visits that have been impacted by the pandemic. Getting back on track will help protect our children and communities for years to come."
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 HPV Cancer Free Georgia, 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 the 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.