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Campaign asks Ontario to fund HPV vaccine for young men

HPV-related cancer rates similar for men and women

A study in 2012 found that between $12 and $28 million in further care and services could be saved if the province vaccinated boys in Grade 8. Credit: Alex Raths/iStock/Thinkstock

It’s just a quick shot, Pride Toronto co-chair Aaron GlynWilliams learned, when he sat down to get his HPV vaccine on June 25, 2015, at a downtown Toronto clinic.

But unlike most people, GlynWilliams got his vaccination on camera in support of a new campaign to pressure the Ontario government to start providing the HPV vaccine to boys and young men.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring attention to the fact that this is a health care issue that affects our community,” he says.

HPV is commonly associated, at least in the public eye, with cervical cancers. The province currently funds the vaccine for young women.

But HPV does not differentiate between genders, nor does it cause only cervical cancer. According to Dr Irving Salit, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies HPV transmission among men and who spoke to Daily Xtra in May 2015, the number of HPV-related cancers in men and women are very similar. For men, those cancers include penile, throat and anal cancers.

“These are devastating conditions,” Salit said at the June 25 press conference at the Hassle Free Clinic, noting that the HPV-related cancers in men often present at much later stages because there aren’t widely available screening practices; the conditions often require surgery as well.

“The point is these are completely preventable diseases. The vaccine is almost 100 percent effective in preventing these conditions.”

David Brennan, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, noted that a study in 2012 found that between $12 and $28 million in further care and services could be saved if the province vaccinated boys in Grade 8. 

“We are looking at the possibility to dramatically reduce the cost to the health care system if we can get this vaccine universally given to boys as well as young girls,”

That’s especially important for gay and bisexual men. Because they represent a smaller population, there may actually be a heightened risk of transmitting HPV, according to Brennan.

A letter in support of expanding access to the vaccine signed by about 60 people, including doctors, researchers and people working in the AIDS service sector, was sent to Ontario’s minister of health, Dr Eric Hoskins, a month ago. Brennan says they have yet to get an official response to their letter.

However, NDP health critic France Gélinas tells Daily Xtra this is an idea that the NDP have been supportive of for a long time.

Three provinces — Alberta, PEI, and Nova Scotia — have already started funding the HPV vaccine for boys and young men.

Community members can sign a petition to support publicly funding HPV in Ontario.

Brennan stresses that time is of the essence to start protecting men.

“People are getting this virus,” he says. “People are going to be living with the effects of the various strains of this virus. The time is now that we address this issue.”