NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center is collaborating with more than 70 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 coronavirus disease (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, or 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 United States. 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 and Prevention (CDC), slightly more than half (54 percent) 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 percent, 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 percent over pre-pandemic levels.
“The United States. is facing a significant vaccination gap, especially for adolescents, due to the pandemic,” says 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 United States 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-designated cancer centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently authorized COVID-19 vaccination for 12- to 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 healthcare systems and healthcare providers to identify and contact adolescents due for vaccinations and to use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination.
“HPV is the cause of cervical cancer and will soon be the major cause of head and neck cancer,” says 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 not only to get teens vaccinated against COVID-19, but also to prevent them from getting these potentially deadly cancers."
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, sharing a unanimous 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.