On Tuesday April, 18, Jeffrey D. Klausner, MD, MPH, Professor of Clinical, Population and Public Health Sciences, testified during a health assembly on The Cancer Prevention Act in Sacramento. The bill is part of an effort to increase uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) cancer vaccine in California.
“Dr. Klausner has been a valued partner over the years in our learning about vaccinating Californians against the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus, and most recently in crafting and refining AB 659, The Cancer Prevention Act. His expert advice and testimony are essential to our success in the legislative process,” said California State Representative Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters).
Klausner served as an expert during the hearing, based on his extensive research and publications. He began his research of the HPV cancer vaccine shortly after it was approved by the FDA in 2006. That same year, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended it as a routine vaccine for young adolescents. Since then, he has been involved in the California HPV Vaccination Task Force, the Los Angeles County HPV Vaccination Task Force, and served as president of California STD/HIV Controllers Association.
“I have been an advocate of routine vaccination my entire medical career,” asserts Klausner, former Director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “I have seen the benefits that routine vaccination can have. Apart from basic sanitation, it is the single most important factor to increase life expectancy and reduce childhood deaths around the world.”
“This is a great opportunity to reduce cancer.”
The uptake of the vaccine in California has been modest. Only 50% of adolescents have completed HPV cancer vaccination. However, there are even lower completion rates in rural counties and underserved areas, revealing an inequity in vaccination rollout. Yet, this vaccine is shown to prevent many types of cancer including cervical cancer, throat cancer, anal cancer, penile, labia and vulva cancers—It also prevents genital warts.
Opposition to the bill ranges from disapproval of government overreach and misinformation that the vaccine is unsafe in some way. However, Klausner affirms that “the vaccine has been in routine use around the world for 17 years, and there is no good evidence that it is harmful.”
In this light, Aguiar-Curry remarked, “most of us in the Legislature are laypeople, not having the technical training to write, or vote on, a lot of legislation we have a responsibility to consider for our constituents. Having Dr. Klaussner advise us and help me present in committees on this critical issue provides the confidence I need, and my colleagues need, to know we are doing to the right things to protect the public.”
The proposed legislation would require students entering public college under the age of 26 to be fully vaccinated against the virus. Klausner’s first study on the HPV cancer vaccine, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that states in the U.S. that had vaccine requirements for school entry were associated with higher immunization rates, showing how policy can make a difference in vaccine coverage.
Next, Klausner assessed California’s HPV cancer vaccine coverage. In this study, he quantified the benefit of increasing the current level of HPV cancer vaccine coverage (~50%) to 95%. The study showed that with this increment, 1,300 additional cancers could be prevented each year, and the state would save $50 million in cancer treatment costs.
His third study investigated county level vaccinations which demonstrated severe inequalities in coverage between counties. It also revealed inadequate vaccine monitoring systems within the state of California, providing an opportunity for better infrastructure.
“I realized it was an important opportunity to bring my expertise to the discussion, because while politicians are well-meaning, they are by no means are experts in this area. I saw a critical information gap that I needed to step into, and fill with evidence,” shared Klausner.