B.C. expands HPV vaccinations beyond girls to include Grade 6 boys

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      British Columbia will expand the human papillomavirus vaccination immunization program to include boys for the first time this fall.

      While the program previously included Grade 6 girls, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake announced on January 6 that the program will be offered to Grade 6 boys to protect against a variety of HPV–caused cancers that affect both females and males.

      The changes are a result of a number of factors, including immunization rates for the Grade 6 girls program not reaching levels previously expected, a decrease in the cost of the vaccine, and the Health Canada's shift from a three-dose to a two-dose series.

      The HPV immunization program will utilize the Gardasil 9 vaccine. This vaccine protects against nine types of HPV, including HPV types that cause 90 percent of cervical cancers as well as cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, mouth, and throat. It also protects against two types of HPV that cause 90 percent of genital warts.

      While the connection between HPV and cervical cancer had been long established, the increase in mouth and throat cancers in men related to HPV only became noted in the 1990s.

      Controversy opposition arose in reaction to the Grade 6 girls program, which was launched in 2008, due to religious fears that it was approval of early-onset sexual behaviour.

      The program will be a part of the regular school immunization clinics but will also be available through healthcare providers public-health units.

      "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. health minister Terry Lake stated in a news release.  

      HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases with three out of four sexually active people being infected during their lifetimes. Many people can be infected without any signs or symptoms, and pass the virus on.

      While many HPV infections clear up on their own, HPV can potentially become cancerous over time.

      In 2015, B.C. became the fourth province in Canada to expand free HPV vaccinations to at-risk men up to age 26, which included men who have sex with men and street-involved male youth.