When Nelson Roy started grade 6 in New Westminster, he was surprised to learn that only the girls in his class would be receiving the HPV vaccine as part of a provincial immunization program.
“It just didn’t seem right,” said 13-year-old Roy, who is now in grade 8. “We did a little bit of research and found out that both people were recommended to get it, but they’re only giving it to girls for free, so I was a little upset about that.”
Roy and his twin brother Elliott have filed a human rights complaint over the vaccination program, claiming that it’s discriminatory. Now they’re getting support from 25 health organizations from across B.C., including the Canadian Cancer Society, who are calling on the provincial government to protect kids of all genders from a virus that has been linked to numerous types of cancer.
The current system depends on the participation of girls and women to protect their male partners from the sexually transmitted disease, and that’s simply not fair, according to Julia Hayos of the Canadian Cancer Society.
“No one should have to rely on their partner for protection from a cancer-causing virus,” Hayos said.
“What we know is that in B.C., since the vaccine was introduced, about a third of girls across the province who are eligible for the vaccine aren’t actually getting vaccinated.”
Six other provinces are extending their school vaccination programs to include boys. Right now, only “at risk” boys and men are eligible to receive the vaccine for free in B.C., including men who have sex with men or are questioning their sexual orientation, as well as those who are “street involved,” infected with HIV, living in government care or being held in youth custody.
B.C.’s immunization program was originally designed to fight cervical cancer, which is why the vaccine was only given to girls. But since then, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has called for all people of all genders between the ages of nine and 26 to be vaccinated.
That’s because HPV doesn’t just cause cervical cancer. It’s also associated with up to 35 per cent of mouth and throat cancers, nearly half of penile cancers and 80-90 per cent of anal cancers, according to Hayos.
“We want to let parents know that HPV can cause cancer in both males and females, but there is a safe and effective vaccine that can help prevent these cancers before they start,” she said.
Of course, cancer isn’t the only unfortunate outcome of an HPV infection. The virus is also responsible for almost all cases of genital warts, and it’s alarmingly widespread.
“We know that HPV is one of the most common — if not the most common — sexually transmitted infections in Canada. It’s estimated that about 75 per cent of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime,” Hayos said.
She added that any parents who are mulling whether to have their kids vaccinated should visit the cancer society’s website to learn more.
In response to the cancer society’s claims, B.C. Health Ministry spokeswoman Kristy Anderson said that the province is already providing the vaccine to the men and boys who need it most.
“Despite an over $18 billion budget, all decisions in the health care system have to be weighed against other important health care needs — for example, the provision of new and expensive hepatitis C drugs and other life-saving treatments,” Anderson added in an email.
Source : https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/hpv-vaccine-for-boys