Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boys no less worthy of HPV protection

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Since 2007, the perils of a sexually transmitted disease called HPV (short for human papillomavirus) have been recognized as a health hazard for women and, quite properly, the Ontario government has provided girls in public schools with a free vaccine. That's all good.

Boys, unfortunately, were not included in the early health warning, launched by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and were left out of the vaccination plan. And that's a shame because even though HPV causes cervical cancer in women, it's also responsible for genital cancers in men. Despite this risk, boys aren't given the same public-health protections.

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So it's high time Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews provides the free vaccinations to school-age boys. They are no less worthy.

It's becoming increasingly difficult for Matthews to ignore the chorus of voices in the medical profession demanding the same preventive care for young men. Not only would the vaccination stop men from getting genital cancers and warts, but it would serve to limit the spread of the virus. Cancer threat aside, that's one less STD to worry about.

Health experts, such as the Toronto Board of Health and Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, are rightly lobbying on behalf of boys. And last year, the immunization advisory committee recommended males between the ages of nine and 26 receive the HPV vaccine. However delayed, it was a welcome directive.

It's a shame Ontario hasn't so far listened. In its defence, the health ministry says it is still "reviewing" Health Canada's approval of the vaccine for boys. That's nonsense.

After all, for several years now, parents who have the financial means have been able to buy the vaccine from their family doctor. It's great they can afford to be proactive, but families who cannot afford the $500 price tag should not be excluded from preventive health care. As a recent Toronto board of health report noted, "this is a significant cost to access a potentially life-saving vaccine."

Other jurisdictions see its value. Prince Edward Island started the vaccination program for boys earlier this year. And Australia offers free HPV vaccines for all boys. Clearly, they have heeded the medical advice.

Unfortunately, in Ontario, boys will be refused the vaccine until Matthews makes the wise decision to acknowledge they, too, have the right to such an important health protection.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2013 A9

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