US cancer centers: Prioritize HPV vaccine for children, adolescents this summer

HPV vaccination rates among adolescents already lagged behind those of other recommended vaccines, with the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating it. Now, 72 U.S. cancer centers are urging parents and physicians to prioritize getting children back on track with the vaccine this summer. 

Adolescents have missed more than 1 million doses of HPV vaccine since March 2020, according to a May 20 joint statement from 72 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers shared with Becker's. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, that represents a 21 percent decline among publicly funded doses, and a 12 percent drop for adolescents with private insurance.

"We risk having a lost generation of children, unnecessarily put at risk for HPV cancers that are fully preventable through vaccination," said Noel Brewer, PhD, of Chapel Hill, N.C.-based UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Parents and providers need to prioritize the HPV vaccine and other vaccines for adolescents this summer," added Dr. Brewer, who is also a behavioral health professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The COVID-19 vaccine, recently authorized for children aged 12-15, can be administered alongside the HPV vaccine, along with other recommended vaccines, according to the CDC

Health systems and providers should reach out to those who are behind on vaccinations and "use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination," the statement said. 

The HPV vaccine has been recommended for girls since 2006, and since 2011 for boys. Routine vaccination can begin between ages 9 and 12, with catch-up vaccination recommended through age 26 and possible through age 45 for some.

A recent study also found that while cervical cancer rates have dropped annually over the last 17 years largely due to screening and HPV vaccination guidelines, oropharyngeal and  other HPV-related cancers are on the rise. 

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