WATCH: 13-year-old boy pushes B.C. government to expand HPV vaccine program
The Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been approved for girls 26 and younger in British Columbia for a number of years now, but a 13-year-old B.C. boy is advocating for the provincial government to expand the program to all genders.
In 2013, the BC Centre for Disease Control has expanded the HPV vaccine program to allow women 26 years old and younger to get the vaccination for free. The provincial catch-up program previously only covered women aged 19 to 21 to provide cost coverage for women who were too old to receive the vaccine in high schools.
The program was later expanded to include at-risk boys and young men. But the rest have to pay for it.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 different types of viruses. More than 40 types of HPV are transmitted through sexual intercourse, genital skin-to-skin contact and oral sex. These types can infect the genital areas of both men and women, including the penis, anus, vulva, vagina and cervix, as well as the oral cavity and throat.
Thirteen-year-old advocate Nelson Roy says he found out about the HPV vaccine from a documentary he watched a few years ago.
A few days later in school, Nelson had his Grade 6 immunizations, but the HPV vaccine was only designated for girls.
His father suggested that he write a letter to a local newspaper about it, Nelson did and the topic sparked a conversation.
“I can receive [HPV], transmit it and develop it,” says Nelson. “I don’t find it fair that we have to pay more to get this vaccine as it it a very severe problem and it can lead to many types of cancer.”
He has also filed a human rights complaint about it and a decision is expected soon, according to Nelson.
It is estimated that about 75 per cent of sexually active men and women will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.
Young women 20-24 years old generally have the highest rates of cancer-causing HPV infection.
Every year in B.C., 150 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 50 women die from the disease.
As well, 6,000 British Columbian women will develop high-risk changes to the cervix and 12,000 invasive procedures will be done to stop cancer from developing.
It is estimated that the HPV vaccine may prevent up to 70 per cent of cervical cancers and the same amount of precancerous high-risk cervical changes.
The goal of the vaccine is to cut down on cancer in women, but in men, HPV is associated with cancers of the mouth, nose, throat, anus and penis.
Nelson and his twin brother Elliot have previously advocated for the cause on Global BC, but there has not been any change since.
WATCH – Archival video (2013): BC has a comprehensive vaccination program against HPV, but it’s only free for girls. And that’s not going over well with twin brothers from New Westminster who may also be at risk. Tanya Beja explains.
At the time, B.C.’s Health Minister suggested the province was still weighing the evidence, but a cost-benefit analysis suggested to them that the vaccine should only be offered to girls.
But a national study released in 2015 suggests that giving boys the HPV vaccine could cut health-care costs over the long run. The researchers used mathematical modelling to estimate the effect of giving HPV vaccine to 12-year-old boys to prevent cancers of the mouth and throat. The work suggests if all the 12-year-old boys in Canada had been vaccinated in 2012, between $8 million and $28 million might have been saved because of oropharyngeal cancers averted in that group.
Global News has reached out to the Health Ministry for an update Monday morning.
Here is the full statement:
The human papillomavirus virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the number one cause of cervical cancer. Since 2008, the Ministry of Health has offered the HPV vaccine to protect British Columbia’s girls against the vast majority of cervical cancers.
Last year we also began offering the vaccine for boys and young men up to age 26 who are at a higher risk of contracting HPV. This program includes those who self-identify as men who have sex with men and street-involved male youth, as they are at higher risk of early onset of sexual activity and survival sex, which is the practice of exchanging sex for items of basic need. This places them at a greater risk of contracting HPV.
Evidence shows the burden of HPV-related disease in men falls disproportionately on men who have sex with men. Extending our HPV program to at-risk boys and young men provides protection to those who need it. As well, we’ve targeted the program to Grade 6 girls and at-risk boys because the HPV vaccine is most effective when administered before a child is first exposed to the virus.
We review all potential vaccines with an eye to making decisions that reflect the most current research and evidence available, including cost-effectiveness and potential benefits.
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 lifesaving treatments.
-With files from the Canadian Press and Christine Tam
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.