Organizations Urge Physicians to Recommend Human Papillomavirus Vaccination

Four leading national medical associations the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) together with the Immunization Action Coalition and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have issued a call urging  physicians across the U.S. to educate their patients about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and to strongly recommend HPV vaccination.

In the "Dear Colleague" letter issued today, medical and public health organizations emphasize to physicians that strong healthcare provider recommendations are critical to increasing the HPV vaccination rate and preventing HPV-associated cancers. Despite more than seven years of vaccine monitoring showing overwhelming evidence of HPV vaccine safety and effectiveness, vaccination rates are not improving while rates for other adolescent vaccines are.

In the U.S. alone, 79 million people are currently infected with HPV. Every year, 14 million are newly infected and 26,000 cancers attributable to HPV are diagnosed. Studies show that when a provider strongly recommends HPV vaccination, patients are four to five times more likely to receive the HPV vaccine. It is time for physicians to strongly recommend the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical and other cancers.

"What you say matters, and how you say it matters even more," says IAC executive director Deborah Wexler, MD. "A lukewarm recommendation may lead people to perceive HPV vaccination as less important than other vaccines." 

Reid Blackwelder, MD, president of the AAFP says, "It's astonishing that despite a remarkable effectiveness record, only around a third of U.S. adolescent girls complete HPV vaccination. Countries like Rwanda are immunizing more than four out of five adolescent girls. We have to do better in the United States."  

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes parents have many questions about the HPV vaccine," says James M. Perrin, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP. "It's important for providers to be able to engage in dialogue, answer questions, and still provide a strong recommendation for the vaccine. Even with parents who have questions, a health care provider recommendation is the most influential factor in parents' decisions to vaccinate."

"We must not lose track of the fact that this vaccine prevents cervical and a number of other cancers. It is most effective when given before infection with HPV. We are urging all physicians to recommend HPV vaccination firmly and strongly for the unvaccinated and incompletely immunized young men and women in their practices," says ACP president Molly Cooke, MD, FACP.

"As ob-gyns, we have a responsibility to encourage our patients to help protect themselves against cervical cancer by getting the HPV vaccine," says Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, president of the ACOG. "We should be routinely recommending the vaccine for all of our adolescent patients as well as women up through age 26, even if they are already sexually active. In addition, we want to encourage our patients who are mothers to vaccinate their sons and daughters at 11-12 years."

"For each year that vaccination rates among girls stay at 30 percent instead of 80 percent, 4,400 future cervical cancer cases and 1,400 cervical cancer deaths will occur," says CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "CDC has created many resources to help providers address parent questions effectively so that they can strongly recommend the HPV vaccine."

Healthcare provider recommendations are the key to increasing HPV vaccination rates. By improving the strength and consistency of HPV vaccination recommendations, more patients will be protected from HPV-associated cancers and disease.

Source: American Academy of Family Physicians