January 11, 2017 | by City of Hope
On Jan. 11, all National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers are banding together to raise awareness of a serious “public health threat”: critically low vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) in the United States.
Several types of high-risk HPV are responsible for the vast majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers that affect men and women. Although many of these HPV-associated cancers are preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, HPV vaccination (HPVV) rates across the U.S. remain low.
Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., professor at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope and founding director of its Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE), says that communication issues are partly to blame for the low rate of vaccination.
Flawed early marketing separated this childhood vaccine from the rest of the pack,” Ashing said. “There were also early cost issues relating to insurance coverage, and parental concerns that weren’t effectively addressed by the health system nationally and providers locally.”
According to a 2016 CDC report, only 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys in the U.S. have completed the recommended vaccine series. U.S. rates are significantly lower than those of countries such as Australia (75 percent), the United Kingdom (84 to 92 percent) and Rwanda (93 percent), which have shown that high vaccination rates are currently achievable.
So who isn’t getting the vaccine?
“On the national level, we know that African-Americans, European-Americans and boys are less likely to get the HPVV,” Ashing said. “But we know very little about our own Southern California community. Our region has not received the funding needed to support adequate data collection. Our research at CCARE is seeking to address the clinical, provider and parental barriers to HPVV, especially among our own Southern California community. We want to improve our ranking among U.S. regions with the highest HPV-infection burdens and poorest HPV-related cancer outcomes.”
Ashing also points out that the HPVV isn’t the only route to preventing cancer. “Invasive cervical cancer can be prevented and lives can be saved with a relatively simple Pap test,” she said.
Approximately 79 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, according to the CDC.
Although vaccination rates have improved, they remain far short of the goal of 80 percent by the end of this decade, set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 mission.
But Ashing isn’t deterred.
“We have an amazing opportunity here,” she said. “We have the chance to prevent about 40,000 new cases of HPV-related cancers every year."
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