Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Other Top U.S. Cancer Centers Call for Urgent Action to Get Cancer-Preventing HPV Vaccination Back on Track

Norris Cotton Cancer Center

As New Hampshire's only NCI- designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we join our colleagues across the country to send the critical message to families to talk with their child's health care provider about HPV and other adolescent vaccines.

NCCC Director Steven D. Leach, MD

Dartmouth’s and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) is partnering with 70 other 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.

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.

"Six different cancers including cervical and mouth/throat cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccine," says NCCC Director Steven D. Leach, MD. "As New Hampshire's only NCI- designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we join our colleagues across the country to send the critical message to families to talk with their child's health care provider about HPV and other adolescent vaccines."

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 36,000 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.

“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,” 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 NCI Cancer Centers.

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.

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.

“Vaccinating our adolescents against COVID-19 is the perfect opportunity to ensure children are also protected from HPV,” Brandt says.

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.  
 

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center

Norris Cotton Cancer Center, located on the campus of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, NH with the highest level of high-quality, innovative, personalized, and compassionate patient-centered cancer care at DHMC, as well as at regional, multi-disciplinary locations and partner hospitals throughout NH and VT. NCCC is one of only 51 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute’s prestigious “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation, the result of an outstanding collaboration between DHMC, New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, and Dartmouth College. Now entering its fifth decade, NCCC remains committed to excellence, outreach and education, and strives to prevent and cure cancer, enhance survivorship and to promote cancer health equity through its pioneering interdisciplinary research. Each year the NCCC schedules 61,000 appointments seeing nearly 4,000 newly diagnosed patients, and currently offers its patients more than 100 active clinical trials.