For Immediate Release May 20, 2021

Contact:

Karen Warmkessel:

The COVID-19 Pandemic has Interrupted Delivery of key Health Services for Children and Adolescents, including HPV Vaccination for Cancer Prevention

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) has partnered with other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and organizations to issue a joint statement urging the nation's health care systems, physicians, parents and children, and young adults to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track.

Dramatic drops in annual well visits and immunizations during the 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. The pandemic also has exacerbated health disparities, leaving Black, Indigenous and other people of color; rural; and sexual minority adolescents at even greater risk for missed doses of this cancer prevention vaccine.

"HPV-related cancers are now entirely preventable with vaccination," said Kevin J. Cullen, MD, UMGCCC's director and the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Distinguished Professor in Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "We cannot let the progress we have made protecting the next generation from cancers caused by HPV slip because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 out of every 4 people – are infected with HPV, a virus that causes six types of cancers. Of those millions, nearly 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 U.S. 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 (CDC), slightly more than half (54%) 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%, resulting in a large cohort of unvaccinated children.
  • 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.
  • Adolescents with private insurance may be missing hundreds of thousands of doses of HPV vaccine

"The U.S. is facing a significant vaccination gap, especially for adolescents, due to the pandemic," said 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 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. Adults aged 27 through 45 should talk with their health care providers about HPV vaccination because some people who have not been vaccinated might benefit. The HPV vaccine series is two doses for children who get the first dose at ages 9 through 14 and three doses for those who get the first dose at ages 15 and older and for immunocompromised people.

NCI cancer centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently authorized COVID-19 vaccination for 12-15-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 health care systems and health care 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 fourth 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 health care systems, physicians, parents and children, and young adults about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.

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About the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore. The center is a joint entity of the University of Maryland Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine. It offers a multidisciplinary approach to treating all types of cancer and has an active cancer research program. It is ranked among the top cancer programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. www.umgccc.org

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