Kathryn Germuth PHN, RN(c)
Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse, Northern Health
It is the start of a new school year, and that means parents are once again being pulled in multiple directions. With the additional responsibilities associated with children going back to school, learning about voluntary vaccinations, such as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, can easily be pushed to the bottom of one’s to-do list. However, a high priority should be placed on learning about the HPV vaccine in particular as it can protect your children from certain types of cancer once they become adults.
HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is estimated to be the second most frequent cancer in women aged 20-44 after breast cancer. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world. In Canada approximately 3 out of every 4 people who are sexually active will be infected with the virus at some point in their life. HPV infection is highly contagious and is spread by skin-to-skin contact, even if sexual intercourse is not involved.
The HPV vaccine is safe and up to 99 percent effective at preventing HPV strains responsible for most HPV related cancers, and genital warts. Two HPV vaccines are approved for use in Canada, Cervarix ® (HPV2) and Gardasil ® (HPV4). Both of the vaccines provide protection against cervical cancer, anal cancers, and other cancers of the mouth and throat, vagina, and vulva. The Gardasil® vaccine also protects against genital warts.
If your daughter is in grade 6 this year she is eligible for the HPV vaccine. So why do you need to start thinking about vaccinating your children against HPV as early as age nine? The reason is that the vaccine is most effective at preventing the HPV infection that causes certain types of cancer if it is administered before a person becomes sexually active. Research shows that both HPV vaccines are most effective at preventing infection when given to girls between the ages of 9 and 13. If you missed your HPV vaccine at school or your daughter missed it in school, girls and young women born before 1994 or later can contact their health care provider to get immunized for free.
The HPV vaccine is also provided free to males who are at increased risk of infection who meet specific criteria. Females aged 26 and younger may also be eligible for free HPV vaccine for full eligibility criteria please visit www.immunizebc.ca
The HPV vaccine is available at a cost through most physicians and pharmacies to those for whom the vaccine is recommended but not publically funded. Both vaccines are safe, with the most common side effect being brief soreness at the injection site.
If you have questions or would like more information about the HPV vaccine, please speak to your doctor or contact your primary care giver. You can also learn more about HPV and the vaccine by visiting the following websites:
- Immunize BC: www.immunizebc.ca
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada: www.hpvinfo.ca
- HealthLinkBC: www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile101b.stm