Healthy Living in the North

HPV vaccine = Cancer prevention

Did you know that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well-established cause of cancer and is present in nearly all cervical cancers?

You may have heard a lot of buzz about the HPV vaccine, but it can be hard to get all the facts when life is busy! So here’s what you need to know!

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately three out of four sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus.

What is the HPV vaccine?

There are two vaccines approved for use in Canada, Cervarix® and Gardasil®, that protect against cervical cancer, anal cancer, and various other cancers. The Gardasil® vaccine also protects against genital warts.

Who should be immunized?

Girls in Grade 6 are provided the Gardasil® vaccine for free in B.C. If you missed your HPV vaccine, or if your daughter missed it in school, you may still be eligible for free vaccine. Girls and young women born in 1994 or later who missed getting the vaccine in school can contact their health care provider to get immunized for free.

New for B.C. is that some boys and men are eligible for free vaccine, too! The HPV vaccine is provided free of charge to males aged 9-26 who are questioning their sexual orientation, have sex with men, are street involved, or are infected with HIV. For full eligibility criteria, visit the HPV page at HealthLinkBC.

The vaccine is also recommended for adult women up to 45 years old, boys and men 9-26 who do not meet the specified criteria above, and men 27 and older who have sex with men. For these three groups, HPV vaccine can be purchased at most pharmacies.

Vaccine bottle and packaging

The Gardasil(r) vaccine is one of two HPV vaccines approved for use in Canada. It protects against cervical cancer, various other cancers, and genital warts.

HPV vaccine facts:

  • Vaccination provides the best protection when given to girls aged 9-13.
  • The vaccine works best if received before a person becomes sexually active.
  • Those who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine.
  • The HPV vaccine is safe – over 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide.
  • You can’t get HPV from the vaccine.
  • Vaccination is up to 99 per cent effective at preventing the types of HPV that are responsible for most genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

Visit ImmunizeBC for more information about HPV.

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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Is your daughter in Grade 6 this year? Do you have questions about the HPV vaccine?

Dog with a sign that says "back to school".

It’s back-to-school season across the province! With all of the papers your kids are bringing home, Kathryn urges you to keep your eyes open for the Immunization Consent Form and answers your questions about the HPV vaccine and how it can protect your kids from cancer.

As we settle back into school routines and the leaves slowly start to yellow and fall, you may feel overwhelmed with the handfuls of papers that your child is bringing back from school. One paper that I hope you watch out for is the Grade 6 Immunization Consent Form.

You may have heard a lot about one of the vaccines offered to female students in Grade 6: the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. As a public health nurse, I have had many conversations with parents and girls about the HPV vaccine. I am frequently impressed with the amount of reading and research that parents do on their own to make the best choices for their children. Often, our main resource for information is social media like Facebook where it can be a challenge to find information that is evidence-based and reliable.

My goal in writing this blog is to provide you with some helpful information on the HPV vaccine and some of the valuable sites for more information that are at your fingertips! I thought about some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from parents and young women about the HPV vaccine and thought that some of these may be on your mind, too, as you consider the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child.

What is the HPV vaccine anyways?

Gardasil® (HPV4) is the HPV vaccine given to Grade 6 girls in B.C. It protects against 4 different types of HPV infection.

It provides protection against two types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and various other cancers such as cancers of the mouth & throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. It also protects against infection from two more types of HPV that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Any kind of sexual activity involving oral or genital contact can spread HPV. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected.

Why should I vaccinate my Grade 6 daughter?

Many parents have asked me why their child should have the vaccine if their daughters are not currently sexually active. Research has shown that vaccination provides the best levels of protection in girls aged 9 to 13. In fact, preteens have a better immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine works best when it is given before sexual activity begins, because the HPV vaccines were developed to prevent HPV, not to treat it.

Is the vaccine safe?

I often receive questions about the HPV vaccine and its safety. Studies show that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Vaccines in Canada are only licenced for use if they meet strict standards for safety and effectiveness.

The most common side effects from the vaccine include redness, swelling, and soreness in the arm where the vaccine was given as well as headache and fever. You cannot become infected with HPV from the vaccine and the vaccines do not contain any antibiotics or preservatives, such as mercury or thimerosal.

What if my daughter missed her Grade 6 vaccine?

Worried your daughter missed her Grade 6 HPV vaccine? Girls born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV4 vaccine can contact their health care provider to get immunized at no cost.

What else do I need to know about HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Three out of four sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Most don’t show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus onto others without even knowing it.
  • Every year in B.C., 175 women will get cervical cancer.

What about my son and other boys and men?

You may have heard of new eligibility for HPV vaccine for boys and men aged 9-26 in B.C. While there is new eligibility for free vaccine for certain boys and men, there will be no changes to the school vaccine programs. If you’d like more information about new eligibility criteria and accessing the free vaccine for boys and men, visit HealthLinkBC.

Can you suggest any other helpful resources about HPV?

  • For more information on the HPV vaccine, visit HPV Info or ImmunizeBC.
  • Check out some informative videos about the HPV vaccine at ImmunizeBC. I like the Dr. Mike Evans videos and find the personal stories of experiences with cervical cancer very powerful to watch.
  • If you have more questions or would like more information about the HPV vaccine, speak to your doctor or contact your primary care provider.
Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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Did you know there is a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer?

You’ve probably heard about the vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV) but do you know much about it or why it is important for our health?

In the spirit of National Immunization Awareness Week, I would like to highlight this particular topic that continues to get media attention and is sometimes a point of concern for parents considering vaccinations for their school-aged children. I’ve also seen many young women in sexual health and immunization clinics who have had questions and misunderstandings about this immunization. In my experience, people are often ready to dismiss a vaccine when they’re uncertain of its safety or efficacy or if they’re uncertain of whether they’re even really at risk for the illness that the vaccine is preventing. This hesitation is understandable, right? We want to make sure that we are choosing health interventions that are necessary and safe for ourselves and our children. Well, hopefully I can help shed some light on this sometimes controversial topic!

The HPV vaccine protects against the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in women. Two types of HPV vaccines are approved for use in Canada: Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil® (HPV4). Both vaccines protect against infection from HPV types 16 and 18 that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and other cancers such as cancers of the mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. The HPV4 vaccine also protects against infection from HPV types 6 and 11 that cause about 90% of genital warts cases. The vaccines are approved by Health Canada and are provincially-funded (i.e., free) for girls and women aged 9-26. HPV4 vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free, for the following people:

  • Adult women up to 45 years of age
  • Boys and men 9-26 years of age
  • Men 27 years of age and older who have sex with men

Those not eligible for free HPV vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies and travel clinics.

Facts on cervical cancer in B.C.If you’re a parent with daughters or a young woman considering this vaccine, here are a few facts:

  • HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. 3 out of 4 sexually active Canadians have been infected at some point in their lives.
  • HPV infection is spread even with the use of condoms as it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
  • HPV infection rates peak at adolescence and can go undetected for quite some time as HPV usually causes little to no symptoms. For the greatest benefit, it is recommended to receive the HPV vaccine prior to the onset of sexual activity.
  • Studies have shown that antibody levels in those who received the HPV vaccine were greater in individuals 9-15 years of age compared to those 16 years and older. The BC Centre for Disease Control has a great primer on antibodies and the role they play.
  • Studies have shown that HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Common reactions are similar to other injectable vaccines and may include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site, muscle or joint ache, fatigue, or headache.

This is just some of the information available on HPV vaccination. If you wish to find out more, please speak to your doctor or contact your local public health nurse. You can also visit Northern Health, ImmunizeBC, HealthLinkBC, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Still have questions? Check out the video below that provides more information on HPV and the HPV vaccine. ImmunizeBC has a great bank of HPV videos, too!

Additional immunization and HPV resources:

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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