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May 25, 2021

UVA Cancer Center, Other Top U.S. Cancer Centers Urge Cancer-Preventing HPV Vaccinations

Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center

UVA Cancer Center is joining 70 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and partner organizations in urging physicians, parents and young adults to get cancer-preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations back on track. 

Dramatic drops in annual checkups and immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a significant decline in vital preventive services among U.S. children and adolescents – especially for the HPV vaccine. 

Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 out of every 4 – are infected with HPV, a virus that causes several cancers. Of those millions, more than 36,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and an available HPV vaccine, 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. According to 2019 data from the federal  Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 54% of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine, while a 2019 CDC report found that more than 90% of U.S. children were vaccinated against Hepatitis B as well as measles, mumps and rubella. 

Those numbers have declined dangerously since the pandemic:

  • Early in the pandemic, HPV vaccination rates among adolescents fell by 75%.
  • Since March 2020, an estimated 1 million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by adolescents with public insurance – a decline of 21% over pre-pandemic levels. 

“Resuming regular preventive healthcare needs to be a priority for all Americans, and that includes the HPV vaccine,” said Thomas P. Loughran Jr., MD, director of UVA Cancer Center. 

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 began recommending COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 12 to 15, and also is allowing missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be administered at or around the same time.

“We encourage all families, if they haven’t already, to speak with their child’s healthcare provider about making the HPV vaccination part of their immunization schedule,” said Emma McKim Mitchell, PhD, MSN, RN, Co-Director of Global Initiatives UVA School of Nursing

NCI Cancer Centers strongly urge healthcare 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 healthcare providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.

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