Calling the situation "alarming," all 69 of the NCI-designated cancer centers in February joined together to warn about the severely low rate of HPV vaccination in the United States. Following up on that call to action, the American Society of Clinical Oncology this week released some of its own recommendations to boost uptake.
In an article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, ASCO calls for increased dissemination of awareness materials and HPV vaccine delivery through "alternative health-related entities" such as pharmacies or schools. Among the other steps recommended, the article calls for a promotion (or bundling) of HPV vaccines with other adolescent vaccines and for doctors to provide definitive recommendations in favor of HPV vaccines.
Since their introduction in 2006, HPV vaccines have encountered several barriers to uptake that include antivaccination campaigns, a sex stigma, safety concerns and physicians' reluctance to discuss the jabs. In January, a poll of nearly 600 doctors found that many pediatricians and family practitioners aren't strongly recommending the vaccines to preteens and parents.
The recommendations could be a boon for Merck ($MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), which provide the vaccines in a class once anticipated to bring in between $4 billion and $10 billion each year by optimistic analysts. Merck's Gardasil franchise pulled in $1.9 billion in sales last year and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix brought in about $128 million.
According to 2015 CDC numbers, just 40% of girls and 21% of boys in the U.S. have received the vaccines, numbers that fall far short of HHS goals to achieve 80% vaccination rates for both boys and girls by 2020.
"ASCO implores the health care provider community, health care systems, municipalities, regional and national entities, and countries to quickly incorporate strategies that have been proven to increase HPV vaccination," the article says.
ASCO says some roles for oncology providers in the effort are to stay abreast of CDC and WHO guidelines and to serve as "community educators" on HPV-related cancers and vaccination. Oncologists should also "advocate and actively promote policy change" to increase uptake, according to the recommendations.