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The Wistar Institute and Other Top U.S. Cancer Centers Call for Urgent Action to Get Cancer-Preventing HPV Vaccination Back on Track

PHILADELPHIA – May 20, 2021 – The Wistar Institute has partnered with doctors and scientists across America at National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers to issue a joint statement urging the nation’s physicians, parents and young adults to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track. 

“Vaccination is critical to preventing human papillomavirus infection that can lead to cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and other preventable, HPV-related cancers. Yet pandemic-related safety concerns are discouraging people across the country from receiving these important, safe and effective HPV vaccines,” said Dario Altieri, M.D., Wistar president and CEO, Cancer Center director, and the Robert & Penny Fox Distinguished Professor. “It is vital that we remain vigilant against these preventable cancers and ensure HPV vaccination of our children and young adults and continue to schedule routine cancer screenings and check-ups each year.”

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—especially for the HPV vaccine. 

Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 out of every 4 people – are infected with HPV, a virus that causes several types of cancers. Of those millions, more than 31,000 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. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, HPV vaccination rates lagged far behind other vaccines and other countries’ HPV vaccination rates. According to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fewer than half (49%) 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 one million doses of HPV vaccine have been missed by adolescents with public insurance— a decline of 21% over pre-pandemic levels. 

“Cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death in America and is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. United Kingdom and Australia are on a path to eliminate this disease in the next decade due to strong public health initiatives on the benefits of cancer screening and HPV vaccination. We can do the same and unite behind the need to eradicate this preventable cancer through education and a commitment to increasing HPV vaccination across the U.S.,” Altieri said. 

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. 

NCI Cancer Centers strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescents as soon as possible. The CDC recently authorized COVID-19 vaccination for 12-15-year-old children allowing for missed doses of routinely recommended vaccines, including HPV, to be administered at the same time. NCI Cancer Centers strongly 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. 

More information on HPV is available from the CDC and National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. This is the third 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 parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.  

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The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer, immunology, infectious disease research, and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. wistar.org.

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