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BC kids deserve equal access to cancer protection The story of the HPV vaccine as told by British Columbians
The human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada.
sexually active Canadians will be infected with an HPV cancer in their lifetime.
“HPV is probably just as prevalent as the flu virus. It’s linked to cervical cancer and other cancers you might not think of – cancer of the throat and oral cancers. Like the flu shot, the HPV vaccine is a safe and simple step to remove the risk and protect your kid’s future. But group immunity happens only if enough kids receive the vaccine – both boys and girls.” - Dr Alana Geist, OBGYN Vancouver Island
HPV causes cancers in males and females. ALL
almost cases of cervical cancer
40% of vaginal
and vulvar cancers
of mouth and throat cancers
of penile cancers
over of genital warts
about of anal cancers
But, not all British Columbians have equal protection
The BC government has taken a stated “cost-effective” approach to the HPV vaccination program – only offering the vaccine free to girls and ‘boys of an increased risk’ defined as males who have sex with males, those infected with HIV, those that are “street involved” and youth in custody or Ministry care.
Everyone who doesn’t fit this select definition must pay out-of-pocket for the vaccine – a cost unattainable for many parents. The Canadian Cancer Society – supported by 25 other Canadian health organizations, is concerned about the policy’s inequity. And we’re not the only ones. British Columbians across the province are speaking up and demanding change.
“Vaccinating only “at risk” boys makes absolutely no sense. Somehow you are supposed to be able to figure out what kind of risky sexual practices a child will have later in life when they are only 10 years old? It makes no sense to link publicly funded vaccination with some sort of “crystal ball-like” prediction of what you think your child will be doing in 5-10 years. Especially when it comes to preventing cancer. Governments really need to step up and take this vaccination program more seriously for boys.” – FIONA, Medical Researcher and Mother
“I recently paid for my son to get the vaccine. I’ve read the literature and the vaccine is clearly beneficial to both girls and boys. My son had absolutely no reaction to the vaccine. The only thing that hurt was my bank balance. Other countries – like Australia, and even other provinces here in Canada cover the cost of the vaccine for all children. We need that in BC. ” – FIONA, Medical Researcher and Mother
Boys are not guaranteed to be protected by herd immunity. Vaccine uptake rates in BC vary - according to Immunize BC statistics, some regions have less than a 60% vaccination rate.
“It’s about fairness. Why do our girls get the vaccine for free but our boys don’t? Since we lodged our human rights complaint 3 other provinces have made the move to provide the vaccine to boys and girls – but the BC government is still dragging its feet. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there. The HPV vaccine is not just for girls and HPV can lead to cancer in both sexes. We owe it to our kids to make sure they are all protected. How do we do that if only half the population gets the vaccine?” – MICHEL, Father, Human Rights Complainant
“The girls in our class call the HPV vaccine “the girl shot”, but it isn’t only for girls. The virus is called human papillomavirus for a reason, because it affects humans and spreads between humans. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a girl or a boy. The HPV vaccine protects girls and boys and it’s not fair that the government will only pay for girls to get it.” – NELSON, age 13
“The HPV vaccine works. It’s a safe and effective way to protect children from preventable cancers caused by the virus. I’m always telling friends and clients to make sure their children get the vaccine but there is a cost barrier for some people. We need to make sure all children, not just girls, have access to the vaccine for free.” - Lisa, Pharmacist, Greater Vancouver
Six provinces have expanded HPV vaccination programs open to all genders. BC is the only province with a policy selective to sexual orientation. BC
“I was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014 – when the doctors said my cancer was due to HPV I was shocked. To be honest I hadn’t realized men could even get the virus, let alone get a life-threatening cancer because of it. Men need to be informed and boys need to be protected as well as girls. ” – MIKE, HPV cancer survivor. Northern BC resident
“My daughter was not vaccinated – the program was just starting out back then. Now, for the last year she’s had to see her gynecologist every 6 months due to “abnormal cells”. I’m worried about her. I hope this turns out to be nothing serious. I wish she had the HPV vaccinated when she was younger. When I hear people say they don’t think they want to get their kids vaccinated I want to tell them to think again. If a vaccine can protect your kids from cancer then you should do it.” – MIKE, HPV cancer survivor. Northern BC resident
All genders should have equal and affordable access to the HPV vaccine. Everyone deserves equal access to cancer protection.
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