A group of 69 national cancer centers have issued a consensus statement encouraging parents and guardians to vaccinate their kids against Human Papillomavirus before their 13th birthday.

According to the statement, approximately 79 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with HPV according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with 14 million new infections appearing each year.

High-risk HPV is responsible for the vast majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.

The CDC also reports that each year in the U.S. 27,000 men and women are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer, which amounts to a new case every 20 minutes. Even though many of these HPV-related cancers are preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, HPV vaccination rates across the U.S. remain low.

“Together, we, a group of the National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, recognize these low rates of HPV vaccination as a serious public health threat," the statement reads. "HPV vaccination represents a rare opportunity to prevent many cases of cancer that is tragically underused. As national leaders in cancer research and clinical care, we are compelled to jointly issue this call to action.”

Cosette Wheeler, a UNM professor in the Departments of Pathology and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UNM Health Sciences Center, was part of the team of experts who drafted the "unprecedented” consensus statement that was endorsed by directors of 69 cancer centers. 

Wheeler called the statement unique because never before have cancer center directors issued such a united statement for cancer prevention.

“Essentially, it is really straightforward that HPV vaccines are highly efficacious, and their efficacy is reducing papillomavirus in the population that are vaccinated such that, over time, many cancers caused by HPV should be eradicated,” she said. 

The take home message, according to the statement and recommendations, is that parents should support and vaccinate their children by completing the three-dose series before they turn age 13.

“Anybody who has not managed to do that, and has older children or young men and women (can be vaccinated). Women can get vaccinated till age 26 and men can get vaccinated till age 21. The consensus statement stresses that,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said she has been involved at UNM by bringing the first clinical trial of HPV vaccines in humans to New Mexico. She said the Phase-1 trial of the HPV vaccine that she was a part of preceded what was ultimately licensed as Gardasil vaccines.

She said that there are certain groups of people who are against vaccines in general terms, while others simply don't complete the series of necessary vaccinations. 

“For papillomavirus vaccines, the uptake in New Mexico is only 30 percent of the main eligible target that need to be vaccinated. Over 58 percent of individuals only get one dose. There are multiple challenges. This is currently a three dose vaccine, and it's difficult...to get adolescents (to) visit the doctor for all three doses. The other issue is that a large number of people are not getting any doses. We need more people to take the vaccine,” she said.

She said lack of funding from the state makes it an even more dire situation, and that the state needs to provide more resources for public health and education parents and health care providers.

“I think we need funds for the Department of Health, and we need funds for things (that) we do, which is tracking vaccination and the diseases related to papillomavirus. We need to start education programs for providers, patients and adolescents,” she said.

William Woodall - director of prevention, research and education at UNM's Center on Alcolohism, Substance Abuse and Addictions - said there is a need to create more awareness among parents about HPV vaccination.

Woodall said he is working on a website that will create and expand such knowledge. 

“There is a need to get the message out there and provide information to the parents about the vaccination,” he said.

Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.