By: Leah Ching, Staff Writer
An important question was raised in the medical community recently, regarding the availability and price of the HPV vaccine in schools. A mother in British Columbia recently noted that vaccine in schools for the human papillomavirus was free for girls in grade six while it costs up to $400 for boys.
For boys, this process is not only more expensive, but also more complicated. The parent of the boy must go to the doctor for a prescription, and then when the vaccine prescription is filled, must go back to the doctor with the vaccine to have the boy vaccinated. This process must be carried out again, and possibly a third time.
For those who don’t know the human papillomavirus is one of the least known, but most common sexually transmitted infections that can lead to a range of cancers including anal, mouth, cervical, penal, and vaginal. The double standard in vaccination practices is especially concerning, given the medical evidence that suggests that the vaccine only works effectively if sexually active partners are both immunized.
Right now, only males under the age of 26 who are deemed “vulnerable” can receive the vaccine for free. More shocking is the criteria for “vulnerable” which deems men that are “street-involved or those who have sex with males” as falling into the category. It would be almost preposterous to inquire to sixth grade girls if they are sexually active with their classmates, or “street-involved,” so the question remains, why is this the case for boys when it is of equal importance that they receive the vaccine like their female counterparts.
The mounting criticism for the government’s handling of this situation is growing, with people outraged that the Ministry of Health is differing the issue and refusing to change their program; instead insisting on looking at economic and social factors before reaching a concrete decision. The money argument has also been shut down because according to doctors, the costs of the vaccine are very minimal to both boys and girls.
The prices also reveal the role that pharmaceutical companies play in setting astronomical prices for important vaccines. GlaxoSmithKline sells their HPV vaccine for less than $5 in developing countries, with prices soaring to hundreds of dollars in Canada.
In the absence of vaccination, estimates suggest that 75% of sexually active Canadians will have an HPV infection in their lifetime that is transmitted sexually. With HPV being the most commonly transmitted infection in Canadians, including a range of 100 related viruses that can lead to cancer, the need to provide vaccinations at a young age seems like common sense.