Expert Commentary

The HPV vaccine is now recommended for adults aged 27–45: Counseling implications

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Can we improve human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among boys and girls so “catch-up” vaccinations in adults are unnecessary?



The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently extended the approval for Gardasil 9 (to prevent HPV-associated cancers, cancer precursors, and genital lesions) to men and women aged 27 to 45.1 In this editorial, we discuss the evolution of the HPV vaccine since its initial approval more than 10 years ago, the benefits of primary prevention with the HPV vaccine, and the case for the FDA’s recent extension of coverage to older men and women.

The evolution of the HPV vaccine

Since recognition in the 1980s and 90s that high-risk strains of HPV, notably HPV types 16 and 18, were linked to cervical cancer, there have been exciting advances in detection and prevention of high-risk HPV infection. About 70% of cervical cancers are attributable to these 2 oncogenic types.2 The first vaccine licensed, Gardasil (Merck), was approved in 2006 for girls and women aged 9 through 26 to prevent HPV-related diseases caused by types 6, 11, 16, and 18.3 The vaccine was effective for prevention of cervical cancer; genital warts; and grades 2 and 3 of cervical, vulvar, and vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. In 2008, prevention of vulvar and vaginal cancers was added to the indication. By 2009, prevention of genital warts was added, and use in males aged 9 to 15 was approved. By 2010 sufficient data were accumulated to document prevention of anal cancer and anal intraepithelial neoplasia in men and women, and this indication was added.

In 2014 Gardasil 9 was approved to extend coverage to an additional 5 oncogenic HPV types (31, 33, 45, 52, and 58), now covering an additional 20% of cervical cancers, and in 2015 Gardasil 9 indications were expanded to include boys and men 9 to 26 years of age. Immunogenicity studies were performed to infer effectiveness of a 2-dose regimen in boys and girls aged 9 to 14 years, which was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late 2016.4

Until October 2018, Gardasil 9 was indicated for prevention of genital warts, cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers and cancer precursors for males and females aged 9 to 26 years. In October the FDA extended approval of the 3-dose vaccine regimen to men and women up to age 45.

HPV vaccine uptake

HPV vaccination has been underutilized in the United States. In 2017, a disappointing 49% of adolescents were up to date on vaccination, and 66% had received at least one dose.5 In rural areas the vaccination rates are 11 points lower than in urban regions.6 The CDC notes an increasing number of HPV-associated cancers—from 30,000 per year in 1999 to 43,000 per year in 2015—due mostly to increases in oral and anal carcinomas. Vaccination with Gardasil 9 could prevent 90% of those cases.7

Non-US successes. HPV vaccine uptake in Australia provides an excellent opportunity to study the impact of universally available, school-based vaccinations. In 2007 Australia implemented a program of free HPV vaccination distributed through schools. Boys and girls aged 12 and 13 were targeted that year, with catch-up vaccinations for those aged 13 to 18 in 2007-2009 in schools and for those aged 18 to 26 reached in the community.8

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