The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted delivery of key health services for children and adolescents, including HPV vaccination for cancer prevention
DUARTE, Calif. — Today, doctors and scientists across America at City of Hope, other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and other organizations issued a joint statement urging the nation’s health care systems, physicians, parents, children and young adults to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track.
Dramatic drops in annual wellness 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.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated health disparities,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., founding director of City of Hope's Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education and a professor in the Department of Population Sciences, in support of a joint statement from NCI centers supporting HPV vaccinations. “Black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ-plus adolescents may be at even greater risk for inadequate medical care. Therefore, we must join with community organizations and advocates, clinicians and clinics to ensure equity in cancer prevention, including HPV vaccination to protect all our children.”
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 and California. 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), just 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 prepandemic levels.
- Adolescents with private insurance may be missing hundreds of thousands of doses of HPV vaccine.
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.
“HPV vaccination is cancer prevention,” Ashing said. “It is crucial that our Californian families and our nation get back on track with all adolescent vaccination with same-time appointments that include both COVID-19 and HPV vaccines to help ensure protected children and safer communities,” Ashing said.
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.
More information on HPV is available from the CDC, National HPV Vaccination Roundtable and California 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, children and young adults about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers. Organizations endorsing this statement include the Association of American Cancer Institutes, American Association for Cancer Research, American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, American Society of Preventive Oncology, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
# # #
About City of Hope
City of Hope is an independent biomedical research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a leader in bone marrow transplantation and immunotherapy such as CAR T cell therapy. City of Hope’s translational research and personalized treatment protocols advance care throughout the world. Human synthetic insulin, monoclonal antibodies, and numerous breakthrough cancer drugs are based on technology developed at the institution. Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) became a part of City of Hope in 2016. AccessHopeTM, a wholly owned subsidiary, was launched in 2019, dedicated to serving employers and their health care partners by providing access to City of Hope’s exceptional cancer expertise. A National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, City of Hope is ranked among the nation’s “Best Hospitals” in cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Its main campus is located near Los Angeles, with additional locations throughout Southern California and in Arizona. For more information about City of Hope, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.