Grade 6 boys in Saskatchewan will now receive a vaccine to prevent some types of cancer.
Starting this year 7,500 boys will be eligible to receive the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine.
“Some people refer to it as the vaccine of the century,” Donna Ziegler, Canadian Cancer Society’s Saskatchewan spokeswoman, said.
“If you knew you could prevent cancer and your son or daughter develops that cancer, and they still might, but if you had an opportunity to try and prevent that when they were 9 to 15 with three simple shots or two simple vaccinations, why would you not do it?” she said.
The human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted virus in Canada and is linked to a number of cancers, including mouth, throat, penile and cervical cancers.
The vaccine works best when children are around Grade 6 because it’s usually before they’ve had sexual activity, and their immune systems respond better, Ziegler said.
“There is a 56 per cent increase in males developing mouth and throat cancers compared to women in a 20 year period. It’s extremely important for males to get vaccinated,” Ziegler added.
The vaccine has been available to Grade 6 girls in Saskatchewan since 2008.
“The research was there for girls. It was primarily looked at for cervical cancer,” Ziegler said. “And then as we come to know more, research has proven that this is an effective vaccine for boys as well.”
Since the vaccine was introduced, 75 per cent of parents for Grade 6 girls consented to their daughter receiving it, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said.
“But we’re really hoping now that the HPV vaccine is available for boys and girls, we really hope it will go up to that 90 per cent mark,” Shahab said.
“The vaccine is very safe, very effective. There’s been hundreds of thousands of doses given all over the world,” he added.
Ziegler said those who missed the Grade 6 window should consider consulting a health care professional about receiving the vaccine.
“Women from the age of nine to 45 should still get the vaccination and men up to 26,” Ziegler said. “Even though you may have been sexually active, you may not have been exposed to one of those HPV strains.”
The government is paying an additional $750,000 annually to vaccinate Grade 6 boys.
With files from the Canadian Press