Canada has it backwards when it comes to HPV vaccinations. In 2007, the federal government invested $300 million for vaccinations of school-aged girls — in some schools, girls as young as nine are being given the vaccination for free — while women 18-25 have to shell out as much as $600 in some provinces to protect themselves.
In reality, this funding should first go to vaccinating women in the latter age group, who are more at risk of contracting the disease, before focusing on preventative vaccinations where the majority of young women aren’t yet sexually active.
An October Leger Marketing poll has found that only one in 10 Canadian women aged 18-25 have received the vaccine in the three years it has been available, most citing the cost as a big reason why they haven’t been immunized. To further add fuel to the fire, a University of Maryland study of 10,000 young women, ages nine to 26, found that only slightly more than 25 per cent had started the vaccination process and only 30 per cent of those ladies had received all three shots.
A vaccine protecting women against HPV and its effects — which include a host of gynaecological cancers — only works if it’s being administered.
In an Oct. 21 interview with CTV, Dr. Jennifer Blake, chief of obstetrics and gynaecology at a Toronto hospital, said that if all women were vaccinated before they became sexually active, she “wouldn’t have to see another woman with cervical cancer” again.
She went on to say that it’s unfortunate immunization funding doesn’t extend past school-aged girls because a lot of vulnerable women are being overlooked simply due to their age, causing them to believe the vaccine isn’t important.
“Health care in Canada, we tend to think of paid for by the government. If it’s not, then we think ‘Oh well, then maybe it’s not so important’,” she said.
But the importance of this vaccine should not be overlooked, especially by university aged-women.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection with over 100 types known. Two of those types are the leading cause of cervical cancer and two others are the leading cause of genital warts. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 75 per cent of the sexually-active population will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Most of the time, you will never know — there are no symptoms and it often goes away on its own — but it can be spread to your sexual partners without your knowledge.
And that could mean the difference between life and death for some young women.
While eventually introducing the vaccine as part of the string of immunizations children receive throughout their school years is a great idea, this country needs to focus its funding on the group that’s currently most at risk. It’s a one-time cost for long-term gain in protecting sexual and reproductive health in Canada.
The annual cost of treating a cervical cancer patient is estimated to be $270 million. With the 1,300 expected diagnoses in 2010, the $300 million the federal government budgeted back in 2007 for three years of vaccinations is a drop in the bucket and could save billions in health care costs.