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Posted: January 10, 2017

B.C. extends free HPV coverage to boys

Beginning September 2017, British Columbia will become the latest province to provide the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to boys, as part of B.C.’s publicly funded immunization program, Health Minister Terry Lake announced Jan. 6.

Health Minister Terry Lake
Health Minister Terry Lake

“We need to do everything we can to help girls and boys grow up to be healthy adults,” said Lake. “We’ve targeted the program to Grade 6 girls and now Grade 6 boys to better promote the broad coverage needed for effective herd immunity. The HPV vaccine is most effective when administered before a child is first exposed to the virus and will help protect them from HPV-related cancers and other serious health problems.”

B.C.’s HPV immunization program will be expanded to include Grade 6 boys in September 2017, to improve protection against a range of HPV-caused cancers that affect both females and males. Immunization coverage rates for the Grade 6 girls HPV program have not reached levels originally projected, and expanding B.C.’s publicly funded immunization program to include all Grade 6 boys will help ensure HPV vaccine coverage rates promote herd immunity, a Ministry of Health press release stated.

Furthermore, the cost of the vaccine has come down substantially, and Health Canada has approved moving from a three-dose to a two-dose series. As a result of these factors, a review of the cost-benefit analysis by public health officials supported the expanded coverage, the ministry noted.

The HPV immunization program will become part of the regular school-based immunization clinics, but can also be requested through health-care providers and local public-health units. The vaccine will be provided as two doses given at least six months apart, as it is to Grade 6 girls.

“Vaccine safety monitoring continues to show the safety of the HPV immunization,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “It’s just as effective in preventing HPV-related cancers in males as it is in females, and the benefits are long lasting.”

The Gardasil 9 vaccine will be used in this HPV program. The vaccine provides protection against nine types of HPV. This includes the types of HPV that cause about 90% of cervical cancers and other HPV-related cancers such as cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, mouth and throat. It also protects against two types of HPV that cause about 90% of cases of genital warts.

Vaccines, including Gardasil 9, are only approved for use in Canada if they are shown to be safe and effective. Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been provided worldwide.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, the Ministry of Health said.

Three out of four sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. Most don’t show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus on to others without even knowing it.

Most often an HPV infection will clear on its own, but for some people, HPV will not go away and cells infected with the virus can become cancerous over time.

Every day, one Canadian woman dies of cervical cancer. Prior to the implementation of the HPV vaccine program, annual statistics showed that each year in B.C. approximately:

* 175 women got cervical cancer;

* 50 women died from the disease;

* 6,000 women developed high risk precancerous changes to the cervix;

* 12,000 invasive procedures were done to stop cancer of the cervix from developing;

* 110 people got anal cancer and 20 died from the disease; and,

* 5,500 people developed genital warts.

It’s estimated the HPV vaccine could prevent up to 90% of these cancers, and a comparable proportion of potentially precancerous high-risk changes to the cervix, the health ministry said.

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