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Grade 8 vaccination program will combat cervical cancer

SIMCOE, ON, OCT. 5, 2007 – The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is distributing information kits through the schools starting Oct. 9 in preparation for a Grade 8 girls vaccination program that will significantly reduce the rate of cervical cancer.

Health Unit Registered Nurses will administer the school-based human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination clinics in public, Catholic and private schools beginning in November.

“We’re very excited about this vaccine,” said Health Unit Communications Coordinator Robert Roth, “The vaccine protects against four types of the HPV virus, and those types are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. Each year 1,400 Canadian women develop cervical cancer resulting in about 400 deaths. Administering this vaccine to young women before they are exposed to the virus through sexual activity will dramatically decrease their chances of contracting cervical cancer.”

The vaccination program is voluntary and open to all 1,500 Grade 8 girls in Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Schools are sending the Health Unit information kits and consent forms home with the students. The vaccination requires three doses, which will be given in November, January and April.

The vaccine has been endorsed by the Canadian Cancer Society, Cancer Care Ontario, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. It has been approved for use in many other countries, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the entire European Union. In the U.S. alone, more than five million doses have been distributed.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It is spread during sexual activity by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Most people never get symptoms and may not know they are infected with HPV, but they still carry the virus and can infect others. Depending on the type of HPV infection, an infected individual may develop cervical abnormalities, cervical cancer, other genital cancers or genital warts.

The HPV vaccine, under the brand-name Gardasil is currently being offered free only to Grade 8 girls by the Ontario government.

“The vaccine provides the best protection if given before becoming sexually active,” Roth noted. “Hence, the targeting of young women in Grade 8.”

However, most sexually active women will still get very good protection from the vaccine and it has been approved for all females aged nine to 26. Women in this age range who do not qualify for the free program, can pay for the vaccine and contact their doctors to administer it. The cost for all three doses is approximately $450. Some private health insurance plans may cover the cost.

The vaccine is known to be effective for at least five years. Health officials continue to monitor the vaccine to see if a booster shot may be required later in life.

Media Contact:
Robert Roth, Communications Coordinator
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3259 or 905-318-6623