The government of B.C. announced this week the HPV vaccine for human papillomavirus virus will now be available free of charge to boys and men under age 26 who classify as ‘at-risk’.
Beginning in September, the free HPV vaccine program currently only available to young women will become available to men who have sex with males or who are “street-involved”.
“Providing the vaccine for all girls protects heterosexual boys as well, but leaves at-risk boys and young men unprotected. This change will address that gap,” said the province in a media release.
“The human papillomavirus virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “It can lead to serious health problems and could develop into an HPV-related cancer. Our vaccination program will help protect all young British Columbians from cancers and other diseases caused by HPV infection.”
HPV can be contracted by having sex with another person infected by the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is “spread easily during anal or vaginal sex, and it can also be spread through oral sex or other close skin-to-skin touching during sex. HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no visible signs or symptoms.”
While HPV may cause little to no symptoms in some, it can lead to genital warts certain kinds of cancer. In men, oropharyngeal cancers (cancers at the back of the throat) are the most common.
“In general, HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60% of penile cancers,” reports the CDC.
“It is clear that some men are more at risk for HPV related cancers than are others,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “As most of these infections are vaccine-preventable, extending B.C.’s HPV immunization program to this at-risk demographic is a cost-effective way to provide protection to the people who need it most.”
Men who have sex with other men carry a disproportionately high chance of contracting HPV.
The provincial HPV vaccine program uses the Gardasil vaccine, protecting from HPV types 16 and 18 that cause 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers and other cancers of the mouth, throat, penis, vagina and vulva. It also protects against infection from HPV types 6 and 11 that cause about 90% of cases of genital warts.