Nova Scotia doctors join call for HPV vaccination program for boys

Manitoba Boys will also get HPV vaccines now. Global News

HALIFAX – Doctors are weighing in on whether Nova Scotia should join the ranks of Alberta and Prince Edward Island in offering human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations to boys.

On Thursday, MLA Gordie Gosse said his cancer was brought on by HPV and he is now asking Health Minister Leo Glavine to expand the HPV vaccination program to include boys.

Currently, the province only vaccinates girls.

Glavine said he was unsure why the program did not already include boys and added he would look more into the matter.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection, that many people will get at some point in their lives. There is no cure for HPV, but it often goes away on its own.

However, Shelly McNeil, an infection disease specialist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, said the virus can cause major health issues for both sexes, including cervical cancer in women.

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“Head and neck cancer is an important one., but it also causes cancer of the penis, cancer of the anus and some other genital cancers,” she said.

McNeil said vaccination is “important [for] men and women, both for prevention of genital warts [and] HPV-related cancers.”

She said HPV rates are similar among men and women, and supports Gosse’s call for a program that would vaccinate boys.

“There’s health benefits that we’re missing in boys, both the prevention of warts and later in life, the prevention of other cancers,” she said.

The provincial health department said the government spends $693,000 annually on its HPV vaccination program for girls.

McNeil said boys are losing out by not being vaccinated like their female peers.

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“We get some reduction in circulation and transmission from girls to boys if most girls are vaccinated, but not maximal protection.”

Dr. Frank Atherton, the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health, said the idea is good from a public health perspective.

“We would hope to see reduced population transmission … and prevalence of HPV infection would go down,” he said.

Sheridan Downey, 17, told Global News he worries about getting HPV.

“It’s scary because you never know, right?” he said.

The teen said a move by the province to extend the program to include boys would be a step in the right direction.

Shelly Bembridge, who has two sons aged 14 and 12, fully supports a vaccination program.

She said it makes sense and is the best thing to keep them healthy.

“It seems like an option we would be silly to overlook,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we have our boys vaccinated? It seems like another way that we can protect our children.”

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