Ontario’s school-based HPV immunization rates must rise significantly to more effectively prevent cancer cases in adulthood

15 October 2015

Toronto -

Parents of Grade 8 girls are urged to get their daughters vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus) to ensure Ontario reaches its goal of having 90 per cent of this cohort immunized against the virus, which is known to cause cervical and other types of cancer in adulthood, says the Canadian Cancer Society.

The HPV vaccine has the lowest uptake of all school-based immunization programs in the province.

To improve uptake rates, the Canadian Cancer Society is launching an awareness campaign to encourage parents to sign the HPV immunization consent form and ensure their daughters receive the vaccination. It also advocates to include boys in the program so males have adequate protection. Three-quarters of Canadians will be infected by HPV at least once in their lifetime.

As part of the campaign, the Society is releasing an online video highlighting Tiffany Bond, a mother and cancer survivor whose type of throat cancer is related to HPV and may have been prevented by the vaccine. Tiffany was diagnosed at the age of 39. Her experience illustrates the fact that the virus can cause many different types of cancer, in addition to cervical. The video can be viewed at cancer.ca/HPVvaccine. 

“I wish the vaccine had been available when I was younger,” says Bond. “Having gone through what I went through, I cannot understand why parents would choose not to have their children vaccinated against HPV.”

This fall, public health units across Ontario sent out about 70,000 letters to parents of Grade 8 girls to encourage them to get their daughters vaccinated.  The immunization program started in the 2007-2008 school year, but in areas like Toronto, uptake rates of the vaccine has remained stagnant at 65 per cent according to Toronto Public Health. The Society is hopeful that vaccination rates will improve as a result of many health units recently moving to a two-dose immunization program, from a three-dose program. Scientific evidence shows the two-dose program is effective and will make the immunization program easier to administer. 

“The HPV vaccine can help prevent cancer and save lives. It is really that simple,” says Susan Flynn, Senior Manager, Prevention, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “A parent’s decision today to sign the immunization consent form can help prevent their children from getting numerous types of HPV-related cancer later in life.”

The current school-based HPV vaccination program covers girls in Ontario starting in Grade 8. The Society is calling on the provincial government to include boys because a vaccination program only focused on girls does not ensure comprehensive protection for males. A 2014 survey commissioned by the Society showed 86 per cent of Ontarians support government funding to also vaccinate Grade 8 boys against HPV. Ontario is lagging behind. Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Nova Scotia have already taken steps to extend comprehensive coverage to boys.  

Younger immune systems respond better to HPV immunization, which is why boys and girls are  vaccinated around Grade 8. The HPV vaccine has been well researched, is safe and most effective before exposure to the virus.

For more information about the HPV vaccine, visit cancer.ca/HPVvaccine or call one of the Canadian Cancer Society’s information specialists at 1 888-939-3333.

About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives and supporting people living with cancer through research funding, services and advocacy. We are Canada’s largest charity fighting all types of cancer and leading authority on cancer statistics and information. To learn more, call 1 888-939-3333 or visit cancer.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Justin Edmonstone

Public Affairs

Canadian Cancer Society

Ontario Division

Phone: 416-323-7026