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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center calls for action to get cancer-preventing HPV vaccination back on track

May. 27, 2021, 9:00 AM

Debra Friedman, MD, MS

A significant reduction in annual well visits and immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a vaccination gap among U.S. children and adolescents, especially with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for cancer prevention.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) is partnering with 71 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and partner organizations to urge physicians, parents and young adults to get HPV vaccinations back on track.

“We actually have a vaccine that can prevent several types of cancer, but it has to be administered early in life to be effective,” said Debra Friedman, MD, MS, E. Bronson Ingram Chair in Pediatric Oncology, director of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology and associate director for Community Science and Health Outcomes at VICC.

“The vaccine is most effective when administered before people are ever exposed to the HPV virus. Parents can give their children better odds against developing cancer in adulthood simply by making sure an HPV vaccine is on their checklist during well-child checkups or even sick visits to their primary care provider,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently authorized the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15, allowing for missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be administered at the same time.

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.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, HPV vaccination rates have been significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S.

According to 2019 data from the CDC, slightly more than half (54%) of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine. 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.

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.


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