Peter Kent is pushing for the HPV vaccine for boys.

Peter Kent is pushing for the HPV vaccine for boys.

Scientists are suggesting that offering the HPV vaccine to boys could reduce throat cancer rates. Oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) caused by HPV affects three times as many men as women, often occurring at the tonsils or the base of the tongue. Typically, the disease develops when men are 40 to 70 years old.

“The interpretation is that oropharyngeal (throat) cancer will become the most common (HPV) related cancer….surpassing cervical cancer,” said Dr. Lillian Siu (an oncologist from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto who led the study) to the Toronto Star. “If we do start vaccinating men and they have sex with women there will be a herd immunity effect in the opposite direction,” she added.

The paper published on April 13 in Cancer journal used statistical models to predict future cost savings in terms of treatment of future throat cancers if the HPV vaccine was offered to 12-year-old boys. The authors tested the model on the population of 192,940 Canadian boys who were 12 years old in 2012. Assuming that the vaccine would be 99 per cent efficient and that 70 per cent of boys would be immunized, the study found $145 in savings per boy. With 50 per cent efficacy and uptake, there would be $42 in savings per boy. Although each series of vaccines costs $400, Siu projects that vaccinating boys will amount to $8-28 million per year in future health care savings.

The authors acknowledge that their study did not consider smoking status and total number of sexual partners, which are both important risk factors for throat cancer. Also, there is not much data available about the efficacy of the HPV vaccine against OPC.

Nova Scotia’s Liberal government revealed in its budget on April 9 that it would be offering the HPV vaccine to Grade 7 boys in schools. This measure, estimated to cost $492,000 per year, had passed second reading on April 1 as a private member’s bill by Gordie Gosse, a member of the NDP who was diagnosed about a year ago with stage 4 throat cancer caused by HPV.

In 2010, Health Canada approved the Gardasil vaccine for use against genital warts caused by HPV. Prince Edward Island and Alberta are already vaccinating young boys against HPV.

Former federal cabinet minister Peter Kent took a leave of absence from Parliament after being diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer in 2013. Upon his return last year he took up the cause of federal funding of HPV vaccinations for boys. Ottawa currently funds HPV vaccination programs for girls in partnership with the provinces.

There have been several safety problems with the HPV vaccine. In 2013, Japan withdrew its approval after Japanese internist and cardiologist Dr. Sataro Sato published a report revealing that almost 2,000 adverse events associated with the shot were reported to Japan’s Vaccine Adverse Reactions Review Committee, with 358 of the incidents being classified as serious. Reported incidents included walking disturbances, tics, seizures, blindness, paralysis, loss of consciousness, and even death. In the United States, data from the Food and Drug Administration revealed that there were 28 deaths associated with Gardasil in 2008.

Gardasil currently protects against nine out of over 100 strains of HPV. In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Debbi Vinnedge, founder of Children of God for Life, a human fetal biomedical research watchdog group, doubts that the vaccine’s long-term effectiveness is adequately determined because “the HPV virus can lie dormant for 20 years.” She is also concerned that it may encourage teens to engage in risky sexual behaviour out of a false sense of security.

Parents may not have a say over whether their children get immunized. The Halton Catholic District School Board obtained a legal opinion from Keele Cottrelle LLP stating, “in general, female students in Grade 8 would have the mental capacity to determine whether they will or will not agree to the vaccination.” The firm concluded, though, that the will of parents would not be contravened because of health department policy requiring parental consent.