B.C. ups immunization age

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The province of British Columbia has extended their vaccination program for women, offering a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) immunization shot for those up to the age of 26.
According to health care professionals of B.C., there was an opportunity for more vaccine funding when issuing a “catch-up” program.

This program was originally launched only for women aged 19, 20 and 21.

“When the program was first introduced, girls in grades 6 to 12 were eligible in the school-based program,” said Dr. Monika Naus, the medical director for Immunization Services at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

“When we had done the math of how large this [B.C] population is, it was estimated that we would be able to purchase enough vaccine for about a third of young women aged 19-to-21.”

A year into the program, Naus explained, it was found that B.C. could expand their programming up to the age of 26 because the women in the 19-21 age group were not as receptive to the vaccine as anticipated.

“Some of these young women had already purchased the vaccine,” said Naus. “At this point it has been on the market for a few years and there’s been a fair amount of publicity for this program.”

She explained that the vaccination being distributed to the older age group was a different medication than what was being given to younger girls.

Gardasil, the vaccine most recognizable due to extensive marketing and promotion, was only provided to women in grades 6-to-12. Cervarix was being used for the “catch-up program.”

“Both of these vaccines are considered equivalent protection against cancer-causing strings of HPV,” Naus said.

HPV, recognized as the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), can effect the mouth, throat and genital areas of both males and females. Gardasil is available for boys, while Cervarix is an additional option for girls.

Ontario has chosen to offer a school-based program for the HPV vaccination for females starting in the eighth grade.

“The Ontario government just last year extended the eligibility of the publically funded vaccine,” explained Linda Black, the current manager of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Program at Region of Waterloo Public Health. “So, it’s free from anywhere to grade eight to the end of high school.”

Other provinces have chosen to distribute the HPV vaccine to a younger age group, going as low as grade four in Quebec. The province began their program in 2007, a year before B.C..

The reason why B.C offers their vaccine to a wider age group is simply because they had purchased a larger amount of the vaccine when the program was first introduced in 2008.

“It’s a vaccine that needs to be used preventatively,” Naus said. “It’s important to be vaccinated prior to sexual activity.”

However, Naus does not discourage women who are already sexually active to become immunized.

She advised that women considering taking an HPV vaccination should still consider being immunized, but first consult a health care provider.

“Especially if they wind up having to pay for the vaccine themself,” she added.

The total cost for three shots varies from $400 to $500 without insurance coverage.

“I know cancer of the cervix seems like a long time into the future,” Naus commented. “Unfortunately a lot of young women don’t have that mentality with them.”

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