Boys need HPV vaccines
HPV vaccine (Postmedia Network file photo)
Vaccines preventing genital cancer are commonplace in grade schools.
In Simcoe County, however, a cohort of high-school boys have been overlooked.
After the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care extended the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to cover boys in 2016, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has called upon the provincial government to extend coverage to this generation of male high school youths.
Boys in Grade 7 in 2016 and beyond are eligible for the vaccine, yet those students who graduated elementary school before last year can’t access the vaccine.
“There’s no downside to this,” said Colleen Nesbit, director of clinical services at the health unit. “We advocate for things all the time and we want to make sure our voices are heard. The cost saving is down the road.”
There are more than 100 identified types of the sexually-transmitted virus.
The health ministry states more than 70% of sexually-active Canadians will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
While the ministry points out that most HPV infections occur without any symptoms, other HPV strains cause anal and genital warts and can lead to cervical, penile and anal cancers.
It can also cause cancers in the head and neck.
Ministry spokesperson, Joanne Woodward Fraser, said it considers many factors when making immunization decisions.
“This includes scientific evidence on the vaccine, expert recommendations and economic and societal factors, including vaccine acceptance and uptake,” Woodward Fraser said.
She said the health ministry will continue to monitor these factors in relation to the girls and the boys HPV programs to inform any future policy changes.
High school boys who weren’t offered the vaccine last year can pay for it at their family doctors for approximately $400 for the series of three needles.
Those with private medical insurance may have coverage, yet it’s not only the economically challenged families that will suffer, Nesbit said.
“The vaccine is covered for men who have sex with men but many high school-aged youth haven’t self-identified (as homosexual) yet, so it leaves them without that (no-cost) opportunity,” she said.
The initial proposal to the ministry for high school male students’ coverage was made by the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health unit in May, Nesbit said.
Girls were initially offered the vaccine in Grade 7 in 2007 and five years later it was offered to all girls in high school as well.
About 65% of Simcoe County students have been inoculated with the no-cost vaccine offered by the health unit, which is above the provincial average of 62% vaccinated.
The two most high-risk cancer causing HPV infections, Type 16 and Type 18, are covered by the vaccine, said Susan Flynn, senior manager for cancer prevention at Ontario’s Canadian Cancer Society.
While the virus was historically comprised of 35% of cervical cancers and 65% of other types of cancer, including vaginal, vulva, anus, mouth and throat, now oral cancers are on the rise in male patients, with oral infections showing up in men 56% of the time, but only 17% in females, Flynn said.
“Men are four times more likely to get HPV in the mouth, and if it keeps going at this rate, the oral cancer rate will surpass the cervical cancer in women,” said Flynn.
“And it’s preventable.”
In Ontario, more than 250 people die from HPV each year and another almost 1,100 will become infected with it.
For more information on cancer prevention, phone 1-888-939-3333.