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UNC Lineberger’s Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, is chair of the President’s Cancer Panel, which released a report that both cited progress and raised concerns regarding HPV vaccination rates in the US.

HPV vaccine uptake has improved in recent years, but underuse of the vaccine remains a serious threat to progress against cancer in the United States, according to a report released today by the chair of the President’s Cancer Panel, Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH.

Rimer is dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The report, “HPV Vaccination for Cancer Prevention: Progress, Opportunities and a Renewed Call to Action,” finds that while there has been demonstrated progress in HPV vaccine uptake in the U.S. over the past five years, vaccination rates remain unacceptably low and well below the government’s Healthy People 2020 goal of 80 percent of age-eligible adolescents.

The report concludes that recent, notable strides must be amplified and expanded, and recommends several steps to increase HPV vaccination both in the United States and globally.

“We have a safe, effective vaccine that protects against a cancer-causing virus, and we applaud the efforts of cancer and immunization leaders joining forces and rising to the challenge of accelerating HPV vaccine uptake,” Rimer said. “Yet, the fact remains that this vaccine continues to be seriously underutilized. We are still missing opportunities to prevent cancer and save lives.”

In its 2012-2013 report, “Accelerating HPV Vaccine Uptake: Urgency for Action to Prevent Cancer,” the President’s Cancer Panel issued a call for action that later was echoed in other high-profile reports, including 2015 and 2018 reports from the National Vaccine Advisory Committee and 2016 reports from the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel and Cancer Moonshot Task Force, led by former Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.

Notably, on average, the percentage of adolescents who started the HPV vaccine series increased 5 percentage points each year between 2013 and 2017. Yet, as of 2017, less than half of U.S. adolescents were vaccinated fully. In addition, HPV vaccines are not included in the national vaccine programs of many low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of cervical cancer cases and deaths occur.

The Cancer Panel’s report, which was informed by notable experts and key stakeholders, provides an update on the landscape of HPV cancers and HPV vaccination and identifies strategies for building on recent progress and overcoming persistent barriers to vaccine uptake.

Noel Brewer, PhD, professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School and UNC Lineberger member, served as special adviser to the chair on the report.

Noel Brewer, PhD, professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School and UNC Lineberger member, served as special adviser to the chair on the report.

“HPV vaccine can prevent six types of cancer in men and women,” Brewer said. “It’s time to redouble our efforts to increase HPV vaccine uptake. Providers should make clear and strong recommendations for the vaccine. Clinics and systems should make immediate improvements, such as having standing orders that allow nurses to give the vaccine – and parents who have questions should talk to their pediatrician or other primary care provider.”

Provider- and system-level changes hold the greatest potential to increase U.S. HPV vaccination rates, the authors note. Partnerships and collaborations among key stakeholders have been – and will continue to be – essential for sustaining momentum and expanding the reach of this urgent call to action.

The report calls for renewed action around four key goals and opportunities identified in the panel’s 2012-2013 recommendations:

  • Reduce missed clinical opportunities to recommend and administer the HPV vaccine;
  • Increase parents’ acceptance of HPV vaccination;
  • Maximize access to HPV vaccination services; and
  • Promote global HPV vaccine uptake.

The complete report is available online.

The President’s Cancer Panel consists of three members appointed by the President of the United States. The only current member is Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, panel chair, who is dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. She was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011.

The Panel, established by the National Cancer Act of 1971, is an independent entity charged with monitoring the National Cancer Program and reporting to the President on any barriers to its execution. The Panel does not conduct scientific research, and while support for the Panel is provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, its conclusions and recommendations should not be inferred as policy or perspectives of the NCI.