On surmounting the barriers to HPV vaccination: we can do better

Aria C. Attia, Judith Wolf, Ana E. Núñez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The major impediment to increased human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination coverage in young males and females is lack of health care provider recommendation. Despite its efficacy in preventing cervical cancer, HPV vaccination in females (49.5%) and males (37.5%) ages 13 through 17 falls well below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy People 2020 target of 80% coverage. Parents’ willingness to vaccinate their child has been shown to be much higher when physicians share personal vaccination decisions for their own children as well as what other parents have done at that particular clinic. Furthermore, the vaccine must be presented presumptively as a “bundle” along with the rest of the standard adolescent vaccine panel. Multiple exemplars presented including in several European countries, low-income countries and Rwanda, demonstrate that school-based health care systems dramatically increase vaccination coverage. Finally, acceptability for vaccination of males must improve by increasing provider recommendation and by presenting the HPV vaccine as a penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancer prevention therapy in males and not merely a vaccine to prevent cervical cancers in females. Paediatricians, obstetrician/gynaecologists and primary care physicians should consider these data as a call-to-action.Key messages •Despite recent efforts in the US, only 49.5% of females and only 37.5% of males ages 13 through 17 have received all recommended HPV vaccine doses. These numbers fall well below the 80% target set forth by the Healthy People 2020 initiative. •According to the CDC, if health care providers increase HPV vaccination rates in eligible recipients to 80%, it is estimated that an additional 53,000 cases of cervical cancer could be prevented during the lifetime of those younger than 12 years. Furthermore, for every year that the vaccination rate does not increase, an additional 4400 women will develop cervical cancer. •First and foremost, healthcare providers (HCPs) must make a strong recommendation to vaccinate patients and these recommendations must become routine, including for males. •It is clear that HPV vaccination rates improve significantly when vaccine administration occurs at designated, well-organized sites such as school-based vaccination programmes. Furthermore, HPV vaccination should be a high school requirement and offered in the standard adolescent vaccine panel as a bundle with Tdap and MenACWY vaccines in order to promote maximum adherence. •Finally, research on immunogenicity and antibody titre longevity needs to be done in newborns. The HPV vaccine may be recommended in the newborn panel of vaccines to avoid any issues of sexualization and misplaced fears of sexual disinhibition, akin to the success of the Hepatitis B vaccine in the 1980s. •The HPV vaccine is a vaccine against cancer and should be aggressively marketed as such. As healthcare providers, we need to make every effort to overcome barriers, real or perceived, to protecting our population from potential morbidity and mortality associated with this virus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-225
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 3 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Vaccine sexualization
  • promiscuity
  • risk compensation theory
  • school-based health center (SBHC)
  • sexual disinhibition
  • vaccine acceptability


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