Last month St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 15 of AACI’s leading academic and freestanding cancer center members, all National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Centers—among them 70 AACI members—and other organizations issued a joint statement urging the nation’s health care systems, physicians, parents, children, and young adults to get human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations and other recommended vaccinations back on track.
The statement was issued in response to dramatic drops in annual well-child visits and immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health disparities have also increased during the pandemic, leaving underserved adolescents at even greater risk for missed doses of this cancer prevention vaccine.
According to Heather Brandt, PhD, director of St. Jude’s HPV Cancer Prevention Program, children 12 and over may receive the HPV vaccine at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is key to preventing several types of cancer. Nearly 80 million Americans—one out of every four people—are infected with HPV, a virus that causes six types of cancer. Of those millions, nearly 36,000 will be diagnosed with HPV-related cancers 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 in the United States also lagged far behind those of other countries. According to 2019 data from the CDC, only 54 percent of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine. Those numbers have declined dangerously since the pandemic.
More information on HPV is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. The cancer centers and institutes unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to health care providers, parents, and adolescents about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers. National organizations endorsing this statement include AACI; American Association for Cancer Research; American Cancer Society; American Society of Clinical Oncology; American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology; American Society of Preventive Oncology; and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.