The Canadian Cancer Society is calling on Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake to expand the province’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program to include all genders in order to prevent cancer.
Currently in B.C., the HPV vaccine is publicly funded and available in school for all girls in Grade 6 across the province. Boys, however, do not have equal access to the vaccine and are only offered it if they are considered at an ‘increased risk’ of contracting HPV.
“The HPV vaccine is a proven and effective way to prevent many different types of cancer, and yet here in B.C. we are leaving a significant number of our boys and young men vulnerable to disease,” said Jenny Byford, with the Canadian Cancer Society.
“We believe everyone should have equal and affordable access to the HPV vaccine to prevent cancer, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or social status.”
In B.C., boys and young men between the ages of nine and 26 who are considered eligible for the free vaccine include those who may have sex with men, are questioning their sexual orientation, are ‘street involved,’ infected with HIV, in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development or are in youth custody services. Boys and young men who do not fall within this ‘increased risk’ group must cover the cost themselves.
With vaccine costs ranging from $300-$450, this is a significant barrier to uptake.
Men are two to four times more likely to be diagnosed with an HPV oral cancer than women. Under the current policy in B.C., men are reliant on women for protection from the virus. This is especially concerning considering B.C.’s varying vaccination rates among women across the province.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the average HPV vaccination rate among Grade 6 girls across B.C. has remained below 70 per cent since the program was introduced, with some areas falling below 60 per cent.
The family of 13-year-old Nelson Roy and his brother Elliot submitted a human rights complaint about B.C.’s HPV vaccination program because they feel it is unfair that boys do not have equal access to the vaccine.
“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,” said Nelson. “The HPV vaccine protects girls and boys and it’s not fair that the government will only pay for girls to get it.”