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Parents of boys must pay for HPV vaccine
Vaccinations free for girls but shots for males cost $200

James Goldie
Northern News Services
Monday, September 28, 2015

Parents of Grade 5 students across Yellowknife received a letter last week informing them of the opportunity to vaccinate their children against a potentially cancer-causing virus - however, while this vaccine is free-of-charge for girls, it is not free for boys.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a kind of viral infection easily transmitted during sexual activity that can have a have a range of medical consequences from genital warts to several types of cancers (cancer of the cervix, vulva and vagina in women; cancer of the penis in men; and cancer of the anus, throat and mouth in both women and men).

The letter, which is signed by public health nurse Rebecca White of the Yellowknife Public Health Unit, states that "the HPV vaccine is not available free-of-charge for boys at this time. Contact Public Health for more information if you would like your son to receive this vaccine."

Yellowknifer reached out to White but didn't hear back by press time.

Although an attached information sheet states the HPV vaccine "is recommended for females aged 9-45 and boys aged 9-26 by Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunizations," there is no explanation for why the parents of boys seeking this vaccine must pay out of pocket for the treatment.

The vaccine is given as two doses over six months at a cost of $100 per dose.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also recommends the vaccine for boys in the above age bracket, but states on its website that "the provision of free medications, vaccines and health services is a decision that is made within each province and territory."

The Department of Health and Social Services did not provide an explanation for why the vaccine is free of charge for girls but not boys by press time.

Previously, in some jurisdictions, such a British Columbia, only girls were targeted for the vaccine based on the rationale that if young girls were vaccinated before becoming sexually active, that would in turn protect boys from contracting the virus. However, this approach excluded gay and bisexual boys from protection.

"The sexual health needs of young people are incredibly diverse, and it's important that young people have accessible, equitable and affordable options in order to protect themselves against sexual-health risks including STIs," said Jacq Brasseur, co-chair of It Gets Better Yellowknife, which is an outreach program to support LGBTQ youth and their allies.

"I would be interested to know the rationale behind young boys having to pay for the HPV vaccine through their schools."

In July, the British Columbia Ministry of Health announced it would provide the vaccine to boys and men under 26.

Candice Lys, executive director of FOXY, an organization that is finding new ways to address sexual health and healthy relationships with young women in the NWT, is in the process of developing similar programs catered to young men.

Lys and her colleagues are looking for creative and engaging ways to discuss topics like sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with boys, which will mirror FOXY's existing program for girls.

"HPV (is) one of the STIs we talk about as well as advocating anything that is recommended by the Canadian Public Health guidelines," she said. "The HPV vaccine is recommended so we discuss that as one of the things you should discuss with your health professional."

In an e-mailed statement to Yellowknifer, Fernanda Martins, relationship development co-ordinator at the Canadian Cancer Society's Alberta/NWT division, said her organization strongly recommends boys get vaccinated to reduce their risks of HPV-related cancers.

"We strongly urge governments, manufacturers, funders and health professionals to work together to ensure boys and young men between the ages of 9 and 26 are vaccinated against HPV. This could include expanding school-based HPV vaccination programs to include boys," she said.

The letter issued to families from the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority did not list a specific date for the immunization clinics in schools this year.

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