The latest news and research updates from Spring 2021 concerning Human Papillomavirus.
EU Beating Cancer Plan
In February, the EU announced its new Beating Cancer Plan, a report outlining a roadmap to tackle cancer in Europe. It brings together four areas to be addressed: prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment, aiming to prevent the predicted 24% rise in European cancer cases by 2035. The report includes a section on ending HPV cancers in the EU, a decision for which we have been aiming as part of the HPV Action Network over the last 15 months. The plan sets out dedicated funds from the EU4Health programme to support and extend routine HPV vaccination to boys and girls, with the goal of eliminating HPV cancers. The goal is to vaccinate “at least 90% of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030”. This plan marks a huge victory for us at NOMAN and for the HPV Action Network.
HPV vaccine hesitancy in Europe: side effects, uncertainty, and mistrust
The HPV vaccine is often disproportionately affected by vaccine hesitancy, due to its association with sexual activity. Parents sometimes feel that their child will be encouraged into early or risky sexual activity by the vaccine, despite overwhelming evidence that this is not the case.
In Europe, vaccine hesitancy is an increasingly worrying problem - it has been identified as having the lowest level of confidence in vaccine safety of any region in the world. The Vaccine Confidence Project, which aims to understand and mitigate vaccine hesitancy, has found that the main worries about the HPV vaccine come from concerns around vaccine information. Many believe the information about the HPV vaccine is biased and unreliable. There are also significant concerns surrounding the safety and long term effects of the vaccine. This data highlights the significance of building trust and certainty around the HPV vaccine and the health authorities who spread information. During a time where plain facts are no longer enough to convince people of vaccine safety and necessity, we must adapt approaches to adopt a more holistic approach which also reduces anxiety and mistrust.
The impact of HPV vaccination on oropharyngeal cancer
The HPV vaccine has been demonstrated as an effective way to reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer. However, there are fewer studies investigating its role in preventing oropharyngeal cancer. 70% of newly diagnosed oropharyngeal cancers are attributed to HPV, and these cancers are rising rapidly. Research recently undertaken at the University of Florida has highlighted that HPV vaccinated individuals have a reduced prevalence of oropharyngeal cancers compared to those who are not vaccinated. The study, which reviewed data from a Florida hospital, investigated the vaccination status of over 4000 oropharyngeal cancer patients. It was found that patients who had been vaccinated against HPV were 19 times less likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer, across both men and women. Further studies into the long term effects of the HPV vaccine on oropharyngeal cancer are necessary to determine the causal links.
Decline in HPV infections in vaccinated individuals
National data taken from the introduction of the HPV vaccine in the USA through to 2018 has shown that HPV infections are continuing to decline in people who have received the vaccine. In the USA, the HPV vaccine has been recommended for girls since 2006 and for boys since 2011. Since 2015, the 9-valent vaccine has been the vaccine of choice. While HPV vaccine rates are increasing, they still remain lower than other vaccines. This study, using data from a CDC survey, has analysed the rates in HPV infection and vaccine coverage from 2006-2018. People have been tested for various HPV types that should be prevented by the vaccine. From 2006-2018, 4vHPV infection decreased 88% and the 5 additional HPV types included in the 9-valent vaccine decreased by 65%. These results show that HPV vaccination is an effective tool in preventing HPV infections, and therefore increased efforts to improve vaccine levels are needed in the USA.
HHS announces new HPV vaccination campaign
The USA Department of Health and Human Services has announced the launch of their HPV VAX NOW campaign to increase the rates of HPV vaccination in young adults. To begin with, young adults in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas will be targeted, as these states have the country’s lowest vaccination rates. Currently only 22% of young adults complete their HPV vaccine series in the USA, so the campaign is aiming to increase awareness of HPV risks vaccine benefits, and to encourage people to complete their vaccine series. Healthcare providers will also be targeted by the campaign. They will receive tips for recommending the vaccine and other support. It is hoped that the campaign will succeed in reducing the hesitancy and stigma surrounding the vaccine, and increase awareness and accessibility through its healthcare professionals training programme.