Author: Darcy Matheson, Senior Digital Producer, CTV Vancouver
For the first time in British Columbia, boys in Grade 6 will be receiving free vaccinations for the Human Papillomavirus. HPV is one of the most commonly sexually transmitted infections and B.C. health authorities say three out of four sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives.
Often showing no physical symptoms, HPV can lead to cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women and penile cancer in men – and can also cause anal and throat cancer in both men and women. Up until now, the vaccine to protect against HPV was only provided free to girls in Grade 6, with the assumption that boys would be indirectly protected through “herd immunity.”
Vancouver Coastal Health will soon be sending out letters to parents and caregivers through children’s schools regarding upcoming clinics for both girls and boys. People can also be immunized through health-care providers, family doctors and local public health units.
Dr. Meena Dawar, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said that immunizations are key because the symptom-less virus is often passed onto others without knowing it.
“Most often an HPV infection will clear on its own but sometimes HPV won’t go away and cells infected with the virus can become cancerous,” Dawar said in a statement.
Cancer survivor Sandy Yun had her 14-year-old daughter immunized as part of the B.C. program. She was going to pay for her 11-year-old son to get the vaccine but now she will be getting it for free.
“I wouldn’t want my kids, or anyone else, to go through what I went through,” the mom said in a statement.
“We have an easy way to protect our children from cancer, parents: this is a no-brainer.”
Each year in B.C. 200 women will get cervical cancer, and 50 will die from the disease. B.C. joins Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick in offering the vaccine for free to boys starting this month.
A study published this summer by the Canadian Medical Association Journal said the number of HPV-caused oral cancers has risen sharply in Canada — about 50 per cent between 2000 and 2012.
The majority of the cases featured in the CMAJ study – about 85 per cent – were men.
Researcher and co-author Sophie Huang, a research radiation therapist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, said men have a weaker immune response to HPV than females, which may explain the higher incidence of oral cancers linked to the virus in men.