Ontario’s newly expanded HPV vaccine program doesn’t apply to all

Ontario’s newly expanded HPV vaccine program doesn’t apply to all
WATCH ABOVE: For the second year, Ontario is vaccinating boys, as well as girls, against the Human Papillomavirus infection. But as Caryn Lieberman reports, not all boys can access the vaccine for free.

A Toronto mother will be spending $1,200 on a vaccine for her two sons that is now offered for free for boys in Ontario, because they don’t meet the provincial government’s age requirements.

“It’s frustrating,” Candy Dinnick told Global News. “We just missed the boat.”

Last September, Ontario expanded its publicly funded program to help protect more youth from Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection and related cancers.

The HPV vaccine is offered to boys, in addition to girls, in Grade 7.

READ MORE: Ontario extends its free HPV vaccination program to grade 7 boys

Dinnick’s sons are 14 and 17 years old. They do not qualify for the free vaccine so Dinnick will be paying for it herself — three shots per son at $200 each.

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“It’s even more important to vaccinate boys,” Sophie Huang, a research radiation therapist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, told Global News.

“The effect of HPV vaccine could last for 10 years, 20 years, probably lifelong.”

In 2007, the province began offering the HPV vaccine to female students in Grade 8.

READ MORE: Doctors calling for increase in male HPV vaccinations

HPV is a very common virus that spreads between people through sexual contact, so it was believed the vaccine would protect young girls before they become sexually active.

But there’s been a push for years for boys to be vaccinated too.

“We’re seeing this increase in HPV related mouth and throat cancers in both males and females but to a much greater extent in males,” said Dr. Leah Smith, an epidemiologist with the Canadian Cancer Society.

“At this point four in every five HPV-related mouth and throat cancers is occurring in males.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said expanding the school-based HPV immunization program to include boys falls in line with current scientific and expert recommendations.

Williams acknowledged that some boys may have missed the time when the vaccine is offered for free — like Candy Dinnick’s sons — but the provincial government “had to start somewhere.”

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“Would we love to have a whole wide catch-up program?” he asked. “Yes, but it’s greatly complicated.”

Dinnick decided it was important to spend the money out of pocket and protect her sons.

READ MORE: HPV-linked cancers of the mouth, throat rising among Canadian men: study

“We’re fortunate that we were able to do that, a lot of people can’t,” she said.

It’s also unlikely Dinnick’s sons will be covered by the province’s new pharmacare program for people under the age of 25, as the HPV vaccine does not fall under the program at this time.

“The pharmacare program is new,” Williams said. “I understand the vaccines were not involved in that one.”

Still, the Canadian Cancer Society advises that both girls and boys get vaccinated because it can save lives.

“We’ve learned a lot more about HPV and its cancer causing effects,” Smith said.

“At this point we know that HPV causes at least six different types of cancer and these cancers can affect both males and females.”