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Massey joins NCI-designated cancer centers in urging vaccination to protect against cancer-causing HPV and other diseases

Aug 30, 2021

Child gets a vaccine

VCU Massey Cancer Center joins doctors and scientists across America at National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and other medical groups in issuing a joint statement urging the nation’s health care systems, physicians, parents and young adults to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and other recommended vaccinations back on track.

The call to action comes during National Immunization Awareness Month. The organizations urge the following actions as children head back to school:

  • Health care systems’ staff and providers should immediately identify and contact parents of adolescents who are due for vaccinations and encourage them to complete vaccinations.
  • Parents should have their adolescent children vaccinated as soon as possible. A list of recommended vaccines is available on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

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. HPV vaccinations have been especially affected. The pandemic also has increased health disparities, leaving underserved adolescents at even greater risk for missed doses of this cancer prevention vaccine.

Back-to-school season and vaccinations

As children in the U.S. head back to school, it is an ideal time to catch up on any missed vaccines for children, including the cancer-preventing HPV vaccination, to keep children, schools and communities protected. Recommended vaccinations may be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccination for children 12 and older.

The HPV vaccine is key to preventing several types of cancer. 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 HPV-related cancers 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 in the United States also lagged far behind those of other countries. According to 2019 data from the CDC, only 54% of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine. Those numbers have declined dangerously since the pandemic:

The pandemic has caused a gap in all vaccinations, including HPV, and especially for adolescents, according to the CDC. As of August 2021, recommended vaccinations for adolescents remain in greater deficit as compared to those for younger children:

  • Whooping cough (Tdap) – down 16.7%
  • HPV cancer prevention – down 18.4%
  • Meningitis (Meningococcal conjugate) – down 13.7%

HPV vaccine recommendations

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 consists of two doses for children who get the first dose at ages 9–14, three doses for immunocompromised people and three doses for those who start the series at age 15 or older.

More information on HPV is available from the CDC and National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. The cancer centers and institutes unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to health care providers, parents and adolescents about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers. National 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.

National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual observance held in August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages.

View the joint statement

Re-purposed with permission from a press release issued by St. Jude

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