Each year the diagnosis and treatment of HPV-related infections (Human Papillomaviruses (HPV)) cost the Canadian health care system more than $300 million. HPV are the cause of almost all cervical cancers, are a leading cause of other genital cancers, anal cancers, and warts, and contribute to cancers of the head and neck. Three out of every four Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Not every infection leads to cancer, but medicine still is unclear as to why some people clear this virus, while others have persistent virus that then does become more aggressive.
In 2007, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended the use of the HPV vaccine for females between nine and 26 years of age to prevent cervical cancer, as well as other infections such as genital warts. That year, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) made the HPV vaccine publicly available, free of charge, to all grade 8 girls (13-14 years of age). In September 2012 the MOHLTC also funded a “catch-up” program to vaccinate females born between 1993 and 1998 that had not received all three HPV shots while in grade 8.
In January 2012, NACI added a recommendation for all males aged nine to 26 to receive HPV vaccine to prevent anal and genital cancers and genital warts. It also recommended HPV vaccine for all males who have sex with males since they have a disproportionately higher burden of HPV infections. Vaccinating males with HPV vaccine will also reduce the spread of HPV infection to females.
To date, the Ontario’s MOHLTC has not acted on this recommendation, and the HPV publicly funded vaccination program remains available only to females in grades 8-12. In other provinces, PEI and Alberta, the program is being funded for boys as well. Ontario needs to step up to the plate.
As a family physician and member of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to expand this program to include boys!!! This is a contagious infection that has serious potential to spread and we have the tools to stop it! This is what we mean by primary prevention, stopping infection and disease, before it starts.
Currently, I am meeting with all 3 parties at Queen’s Park to discuss these issues and to encourage equitable access for all young Ontarians. It is only fair.