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Letter to President Obama

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

Your President's Cancer Panel (the Panel) has exciting news to report to you. Our annual report details one of the most profound opportunities in cancer prevention today. Rarely will you receive a report describing the potential to eliminate certain types of cancer from our children's future. That is the focus of this report.

One in four people in the United States—nearly 80 million—are infected with at least one type of human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses linked to multiple cancers and other diseases. Today, we have two safe and effective vaccines that prevent infection by the two most prevalent cancer-causing HPV types. However, in 2012, only 33 percent of adolescent females and less than 7 percent of males across the U.S. had completed the three-dose series. These low vaccination rates reveal countless missed opportunities to prevent cancers and other serious diseases. HPV vaccines are underused not only in the U.S. but around the world. The Panel finds this a serious threat to progress against cancer. We are confident that vaccine uptake can be increased dramatically, starting now, if HPV vaccination is made a public health priority by many different organizations. We believe there is the will to do that.

During 2012-2013, the Panel explored underuse of HPV vaccines and ways to accelerate vaccine uptake and protect today's children as well as future generations against cancers caused by HPV. We sought the input of diverse stakeholders, including government and nongovernmental organization leaders, researchers, healthcare providers, public health professionals, advocates, and health communication experts. We also heard compelling testimony from survivors who have lived with the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of cancers caused by HPV. Through four workshops, we identified barriers to HPV vaccine uptake and discussed steps to overcome them, with the goal of increasing HPV vaccination rates regionally, nationally, and globally.

HPV vaccines prevent cancer, so why are HPV vaccination rates as low as 12 percent in some regions of the country? The most important barriers identified among healthcare providers, parents/caregivers, and adolescents were missed clinical opportunities, misinformation, mistrust, lack of knowledge, insufficient access and/or system gaps, and cost concerns.

In this report, we provide concrete, targeted, and actionable recommendations—supported by evidence and input from key stakeholders—to address these barriers and achieve greater uptake of HPV vaccines by both boys and girls. Your Panel is proud of this report and hopes for aggressive implementation of our recommendations for supporting widespread HPV vaccination programs throughout the U.S. and the world.

We ask for your help in making this issue a priority on the Nation's public health agenda and in encouraging and facilitating mobilization of many communities around this critical public health issue. Your Panel urges you to take a visible, public stand in encouraging vaccination of age-appropriate children, adolescents, and young adults. Mr. President, your support of widespread HPV vaccination starting today can help save thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives and could forever alter the landscape for cancers related to HPV. No man or woman should have to suffer or die from cancers or other diseases when the means by which to protect them is within our grasp.


Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH
Hill Harper, JD
Owen N. Witte, MD