Roswell Park voices urgent call to address COVID-related delays in key health services for children and adolescents
- Roswell Park is 1 of 71 centers united in urgent call to physicians, families
- 1 million recommended doses missed as a result of COVID-19 pandemic
- Roswell Park team working to expand HPV vaccination in underserved communities
BUFFALO, N.Y. — As part of a unanimous effort on the part of the nation’s 71 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is urging the nation’s physicians, parents and young adults to get cancer-preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination back on track.
Dramatic drops in annual well visits and immunizations related to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a significant vaccination gap and a 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 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 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), slightly more than half (54%) of adolescents were up to date on the HPV vaccine in 2019.
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.
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.
“Parents and healthcare providers agree on the importance of cancer prevention that the HPV vaccine provides,” says Elisa Rodriguez, PhD, MS, Chief Diversity and Equity Officer for Faculty and Director of Community Engagement Resource at Roswell Park. “Reinforcing a cancer prevention message in our communities to support adolescent HPV vaccination for back to school is critical and an effective way to protect children from future HPV-related cancers.”
“As the pandemic has reduced well-child visits and routine vaccinations, it is imperative that we support these efforts to increase adolescent vaccinations in all communities,” adds Nicolas Schlecht, PhD, a Professor of Oncology and member of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park.
Drs. Rodriguez and Schlecht are leading a Roswell Park Alliance Foundation-funded effort to increase HPV vaccination in rural areas of Western New York, as well as other research on the uptake and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in underserved urban and rural populations. Vaccination rates lag in Western New York — particularly concerning as incidence of HPV-associated cancers are on the rise in rural communities across the country.
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 healthcare systems and healthcare providers to identify and contact adolescents due for vaccinations and to use every opportunity to encourage and complete vaccination.
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 healthcare providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at www.roswellpark.org, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or ASKRoswell@RoswellPark.org.
Rebecca Vogt, Media Relations Specialist