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Local cancer prevention vaccine rates still too low

It’s estimated that 75 per cent of Canadians will be infected by HPV at least once in their lifetime
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SIMCOE MUSKOKA – While immunization against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is extremely effective in preventing numerous cancers and genital warts, about a third of local students are not taking advantage of the free HPV vaccine.

“HPV is responsible for almost all cervical cancer cases, as well as other cancers including mouth, throat, and anal cancers, but our local immunization rates against the virus are far from ideal,” said Dr. Colin Lee, Associate Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU). “We need to change that. This is an excellent vaccine that helps prevent cancers and saves lives.”     

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada – it’s estimated that 75 per cent of Canadians will be infected by HPV at least once in their lifetime.

Because most sexually active people who have HPV are unaware that they have it, the infection is often passed unknowingly on to partners. The best time and way to prevent HPV infection is to receive the vaccine in Grade 7.

The HPV vaccine is offered for free by SMDHU to Grade 7 students across the region as part of the provincial school-based HPV vaccination program. The vaccine coverage rate for Simcoe Muskoka students is stagnant at just over 68 per cent – the rate is lower in Muskoka.

“This vaccine is the easiest, most effective way to protect yourself from an HPV infection,” says Dr. Laura White, gynecologic oncologist, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).

“Almost everyone will come into contact with and acquire an HPV infection at some point in their life. It’s important that parents support vaccination in Grade 7 since the vaccine works best before individuals become sexually active. Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of this vaccine significantly outweigh the risks. When 99 per cent of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, the vaccine – combined with regular pap smears – is a simple way we can eradicate this type of cancer.”

In addition to being responsible for numerous cancers, HPV also causes genital warts. In the 2017-2018 school year, more than 12 per cent of visits to SMDHU sexual health clinics were for warts caused by HPV.

Students who have missed the Grade 7 HPV vaccination or still need their second dose, have until the till the end of high school to complete it. For more information about catching up on the HPV vaccine or about HPV, check the health unit’s website or call Health Connection weekdays 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 or toll free at 1-877-721-7520.