Future serious illnesses, including meningitis and cancer can be prevented
School vaccinations are used to prevent many serious illnesses such as meningitis and cancer, not only during school years, but throughout an individual’s life. One of the important vaccines is against human papillomavirus (HPV) which is the cause of nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer in women, and causes other cancers in both men and women.
However, as of the 2020-21 school year, only one per cent of 12-year-olds in Ontario were up to date with their immunization against HPV, due in large part to school vaccination programs being disrupted by the pandemic. The HPV vaccination rate is the lowest of the three major school-based vaccination programs monitored by Public Health Ontario. The others, for hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis (MCV4), are both at 17 per cent.
By comparison, the rates for 17-year-olds who received school-based vaccinations prior to the pandemic were 94 per cent for MCV4, 77 per cent for hepatitis B and 63 per cent for HPV, indicating how much work is needed to catch up. The latter rate of HPV vaccination was well below Canada’s international commitment of achieving a target of 90 per cent vaccination of young people for HPV.
The great speed of and the lessons from the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program should be leveraged to solve this new public health vaccination issue, including wider access to vaccines in non-traditional locations, strong public communications and an enhanced immunization registry accessible to all health care providers like the COVAX system.
All of these tools should be harnessed again for HPV vaccinations and the FMWC is calling for the government to implement the following key steps in collaboration with health system stakeholders:
1) Adopt HPV vaccination targets and monitor: Set clear catch-up goals and ensure effective tracking of progress to achieve them.
2) Facilitate access to HPV vaccinations and track: Expand the HPV vaccination program to high schools to allow students who missed shots to catch up, allow pharmacists to deliver the vaccinations and track progress through a new centralized electronic immunization registry.
3) Communicate: Implement a robust and coordinated communications plan to increase public awareness of the need for vaccinations and how to get them.
“Building on the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program, we can do better and ensure children are caught up with the vaccines they missed during the pandemic,” said Dr. Vivien Brown, a Toronto family physician who is Chair of the HPV Immunization Task Force and Board Member of Immunize Canada. “We have an opportunity to achieve a high HPV immunization rate. This will protect our children and our healthcare system from paying a very heavy price in the future. If we immunize now, we prevent cancer and other serious diseases.”
The Federation of Medical Women of Canada (FMWC) is a national organization committed to the professional, social and personal advancement of women physicians and to the promotion of the well-being of women both in the medical profession and in society at large.