Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and other top U.S. cancer centers call for urgent action to get cancer-preventing HPV vaccination

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the delivery of key health services for children and adolescents, including HPV vaccination for cancer prevention

Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, a partnership of Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic, is partnering with 71 other National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers and partner organizations to issue a joint statement calling for physicians , parents and youth in the country. adults to get human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track.

The dramatic decline in annual well visits and immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant vaccination gap and backlog in vital preventive services among American children and adolescents, especially for the HPV vaccine.

“No doubt vaccination coverage and well visits have been decreased by COVID,” said Andrew Hertz, pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a long-term steering committee. member of the HPV Quality Improvement Collaborative. “HPV vaccination is a very effective way to prevent several types of common cancers. However, if vaccination coverage does not increase, cancers, health care costs, and patient morbidity and mortality will increase over the next 20, 30, 40 years. “

Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 in 4 people – are infected with HPV, a virus that causes various types of cancer. Of those millions, more than 36,000 will be diagnosed with HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering numbers and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV infections, HPV vaccination coverage remains significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the US. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, HPV vaccination rates lagged far behind those of other vaccines and HPV vaccinations in other countries. vaccination coverage. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just over half (54%) of the adolescents were aware of the HPV vaccine. Those numbers have fallen dangerously since the pandemic:

Early in the pandemic, HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents fell by 75%, resulting in a large cohort of unvaccinated children. As of March 2020, an estimated one million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by publicly insured adolescents – a drop from 21% on pre-pandemic levels.

The US has recommended routine HPV vaccination for women since 2006 and for men since 2011. Current recommendations are for routine vaccination at the age of 11 or 12 or 9 years. Catch-up HPV vaccination is recommended up to age 26.

NCI Cancer Centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently approved COVID-19 vaccination for 12-15-year-old children, allowing missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be given at the same time. NCI Cancer Centers strongly urge healthcare systems and providers to take steps to identify and contact adolescents for vaccinations and to use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination.

“There is a misconception that the HPV vaccine will encourage teens to engage in risk-taking behavior, but studies have shown that this is not the case,” said Kimberly Giuliano, primary care chair of pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Children’s and associate professor of pediatrics. at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “The HPV vaccine is one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer prevention, but to be effective, children have to get it. While we have increased awareness of vaccines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to discuss other important vaccines such as HPV. “

The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center is mobilizing efforts to improve HPV vaccination coverage. It recently reconvened the HPV Quality Improvement Collaborative and brought together health systems across the region to increase overall HPV vaccination coverage.

“We have made enormous strides in recent years in increasing our vaccination coverage across the region. COVID has contributed to the decline in well visits over the past year, and subsequently to a decline in vaccination coverage, ”said Erika Trapl, associate director for community outreach and engagement, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, and director of the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “The HPV vaccine can prevent about 90% of HPV-related cancers. It’s very important to us as parents to get our kids back in for good visits and get back on track with their HPV vaccinations. “

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