Advocacy group pans province's updated HPV vaccine program

by Leo Almazora24 Sep 2018

An advocacy group has slammed Quebec’s decision to change its human papillomavirus (HPV) immunization program for children, claiming that it puts cost considerations over their health.

“Quebec children deserve the same cancer protection as the rest of Canada," declared a press release from HPV Awareness, a national advocacy group that seeks to educate Canadians about HPV and complications arising from it.

The statement noted that the Quebec has offered a free HPV vaccination program since 2008; the program was expanded to include boys. The program included two doses of Gardasil9, which provides protection against HPV-related diseases such as cancers of the head and neck, tongue, and other areas. Recommended by the Québec Immunization Committee (CIQ) at the Quebec National Institute of Public Health, it has been proven to lower rates of genital warts and HPV infections in Quebecers.

Under the new vaccination schedule starting this month, recipients will get one dose of Gardasil9 and one dose of Cervarix. According to HPV Awareness, Gardasil9 protects against nine HPV types while Cervarix protects against only two. In addition, Cervarix has neither been approved by Health Canada for males nor proven to protect them against infections, pre-cancer, and cancers.

“Further, in the long-term for girls and boys, there is no evidence this new program is as effective as the current two doses of Gardasil9,” the group’s statement said. It added that Quebec parents and caregivers who want their child to get a second shot of Gardasil9 would have to pay at least $175 out of pocket.

According to Dr. Marc Steben, a family doctor and a sexually transmitted infections specialist at the INSPQ, it will take eight to 10 years to show how effective the new vaccine mix is.

“We'll find out when these people become sexually active if it works or not,” Steben, who is also on the board of directors of HPV Awareness, told CBC News. “If it does not work, it means for 10 years we would have immunized people with something that was not effective.”

The person responsible for the CIQ's public immunization program admitted that cost was a factor in the decision, though it doesn’t mean the new regimen is less effective. And with the lower cost, the program can be expanded to include boys up to Grade 9.

“We are seeing a 100 per cent response after one dose of Gardasil9 and one dose of Cervarix," said Dr. Chantal Sauvageau, referring to data from vaccine immune response studies. She added that while the company behind Cervariz hasn’t sought approval from Health Canada, the data still indicates it works for both girls and boys.

Sauvegeau said the new schedule, first considered in 2014, was approved after experts across the province tested different combinations of available vaccines for years.  However, according to Steben, parents were not informed of the change.

 

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