Time to get smart about good medicine

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in the St. John’s (N.L.) Telegram:

If you could get an in­jec­tion — or a se­ries of in­jec­tions — and avoid de­vel­op­ing a po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing can­cer later in life, would you get the shot?

Prob­a­bly, right? Now, imag­ine you have to get that shot be­fore you’re sex­u­ally ac­tive, to short-cir­cuit and re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting in­fected with HPV, the hu­man pa­pil­loma virus. HPV is a group of 100 or so viruses, with more than 40 of them trans­ferred through sex­ual con­tact.

There are vac­cines for HPV, but they’re not ef­fec­tive if the virus is al­ready es­tab­lished. Since it is often spread sex­u­ally, it’s ideal if the vac­cine is ad­min­is­tered early. The Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety es­ti­mates that 75 per cent of sex­u­ally ac­tive adults will be in­fected with HPV at least once in their life­times.

In New­found­land and Labrador, un­til last week, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment paid to have girls in Grade 6 re­ceive the HPV vac­cine. But only girls. If par­ents wanted to have their sons vac­ci­nated, they had to pay.

While in­oc­u­lat­ing slightly more than half of the school-aged pop­u­la­tion may be a cost-ef­fec­tive way to ad­dress the big­gest can­cer risk from HPV, it’s far from inclusive or com­plete. Both men and women can get HPV, which can cause vagi­nal warts and lead to can­cers of the gen­i­tals, mouth and throat, although the most com­mon can­cer is cer­vi­cal can­cer in women. Inoc­u­la­tion has been found to re­duce the num­ber of HPV-re­lated can­cers by 70 to 84 per cent.

But the fe­male-only pro­gram risked be­ing a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The pol­icy sug­gested those who en­gage in dif­fer­ent kinds of re­la­tion­ships aren’t wor­thy of the same pro­tec­tions as those who take part in more tra­di­tional sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.

That changed last week, when the prov­ince added HPV vac­ci­na­tion for boys to a suite that in­cludes in­oc­u­la­tions for menin­gi­tis, Hep­ati­tis B, Tetanus, Diph­the­ria and Per­tus­sis.

The move will cost a vir­tu­ally in­signif­i­cant $360,000 a year. Cast against the sav­ings in re­duc­tions in fu­ture can­cer cases, it’s a stitch in time that will save hun­dreds of thou­sands of health-care dol­lars. And don’t for­get the pain and suf­fer­ing it will pre­vent as well.

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