Despite the availability of a vaccine proven to be an effective primary prevention measure to reduce the burden of HPV-related cancers, many challenges remain to achieve universal, gender-neutral HPV vaccination in the EU. Such challenges were discussed at a roundtable of EU and national experts and patients in Brussels in December 2017. This meeting, which was attended by members of the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) and its secretariat, explored strategies for increasing coverage of HPV vaccination for males as well as females, and other policy measures such as improving access to cervical screening. It also provided the opportunity to share plans for first International HPV Awareness Day, held this past 4th March 2018.
Participants included experts working in HPV prevention, health inequalities and communication. Dr. Jennifer Blake, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), was particularly inspiring in describing the journey her organization took to launch the first ‘HPV Prevention Week’ in Canada in 2017. As a result, the discussion focused on how stakeholders in the field can champion similar awareness-raising activities across Europe. It was agreed that collaboration and coalition-building amongst advocates was key to consistently and powerfully make the case for universal vaccination.
There is growing awareness that collaborations to address falling vaccination rates and enhance confidence is growing. Since this December meeting, the first International HPV Awareness Day took place in March led by the IPVS and during European Immunization Week in April; the European Parliament and the European Commission both recently called for action to address falling vaccination rates and to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
We need to maintain this momentum moving forward and carefully consider the recommendations of the group which included:
- Enhance recognition of the importance of vaccinating boys and increasing vaccine coverage rates to create true community protection for all European citizens.
- Review and modify HPV vaccination public policy across Europe in order to broaden access to boys and increase coverage rates.
- Improve communication skills and awareness-raising initiatives around the HPV virus as a priority, particularly online and on social media platforms.
- Provide policymakers with evidence-based information in a style and language that they can understand and re-use to support HPV vaccination.
- The possibility that HPV-related diseases could be eliminated in the future was viewed as a proposal that would appeal to policymakers and should be explored further.
- A coalition of multi-sector EU level stakeholders should be established to raise political and public awareness of HPV-related diseases and the efforts that are required to reduce their burden on patients and society.