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 children and adolescents living in the United States — especially for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Nearly 80 million Americans — 1 in 4 people — are infected with HPV, a virus that causes several types of cancers. More than 36,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and the availability of a safe vaccine to prevent HPV infections, vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S.
Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health has partnered with other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and partner organizations to urge the nation’s physicians, parents and young adults to get HPV vaccination back on track.
“Vaccinations have long played a critical role as a preventive tool used to reduce the risk of disease or even eradicate some conditions, such as polio. We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic initially reduced access to annual exams and routine vaccinations. Staying on top of your family’s health is the safest thing to do right now. Please, don’t delay and schedule missed well visits and vaccinate your children against the HPV virus,” said Scott Lippman, MD, director of Moores Cancer Center, San Diego’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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), 54 percent of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine.
Those numbers have since declined precipitously:
- Early in the pandemic, HPV vaccination rates among adolescents fell by 75 percent, resulting in a large cohort of unvaccinated children.
- Since March 2020, an estimated one million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by adolescents with public insurance — a decline of 21 percent over pre-pandemic levels.
“The HPV vaccine is safe. By taking action today, the vaccine can prevent needless suffering and may save thousands of lives in the United States alone,” said Lippman.
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.
Together, the NCI cancer centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible and 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. 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.