ROCHESTER, Minn. ― Mayo Clinic Cancer Center has joined 71 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in calling on the nation's health care providers, parents and young adults to help get HPV vaccinations back on track. HPV causes several types of cancers, and nearly everyone gets infected with HPV by age 50.
"Mayo Clinic recommends all its patients start their two-dose HPV vaccine series at age 9," says Robert Jacobson, M.D., pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. "Those who missed starting it on time need to get up to date now."
Dr. Jacobson says the U.S. was already facing a vaccination gap for adolescents before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. "It is important that we get back on track with HPV vaccination to help ensure we protect our children from cancer," he says.
Nearly 80 million Americans ― 1 out of every 4 people ― are infected with HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fortunately, most people overcome the infection in a few years. However, some infections go on to cause cancer.
About half of HPV-related cancers are in the mouth and throat. More than 34,000 people will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year.
Despite the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV infections, vaccination rates in the U.S. remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines. Since March 2020, an estimated 1 million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by adolescents with public insurance — a decline of 21% over pre-pandemic levels. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. HPV vaccination rates lagged far behind those of other nations.
"The U.S. is facing a significant vaccination gap, especially for adolescents, due to the pandemic," says Heather Brandt, Ph.D., director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and coordinator for the joint statement from National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer renters. "Well-child visits are down. Usual back-to-school vaccination activity for adolescents has been limited by virtual and hybrid learning. It is crucial that we get back on track as a nation with adolescent vaccination to ensure we protect our children and communities."
The U.S. has recommended routine HPV vaccination for girls and women since 2006, and for boys and men 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.
"Mayo Clinic has always recommended starting HPV vaccination at 9 years of age," says Dr. Jacobson. "It is hard for teens and adolescents to stay up on preventive care."
He says patients who start at 9 years of age are more likely to complete the series in time before they are exposed to the virus. "Once exposed to the virus, it is too late for the vaccine to prevent infection and the cancers the infection causes," says Dr. Jacobson.
The coalition of comprehensive cancer centers strongly encourages parents to get their children up to date on their HPV vaccines now, along with all other vaccinations due. 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.
This is the third time that Mayo Clinic and the other National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive 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 parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination to eliminate HPV-related cancers.
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