Many parents still resisting HPV vaccinations

Public health authorities in Ottawa and Gatineau are still struggling to convince parents to protect their kids against the widespread human papillomavirus (HPV), two years after the government set lofty immunization goals.

Vaccine still carries a stigma for some people, health officials say

Just under 60 per cent of 12-year-olds in Ottawa were immunized against HPV in the 2016-17 school year. The federal government announced two years ago that it wants to see a 90 per cent immunization rate by 2025. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Public health authorities in Ottawa and Gatineau are still struggling to convince parents to protect their kids against the widespread human papillomavirus (HPV), two years after the government set lofty immunization goals.

The federal government announced an ambitious target in 2016 of having 90 per cent of 17-year-old children vaccinated against the cancer-causing virus by 2025.

So far, Ottawa and Gatineau are both falling short of that target.

In Ottawa, only 59.9 per cent of 12-year-olds were immunized against HPV during the 2016-17 school year. In Gatineau, 73 per cent of boys and 77 per cent of girls in Grade 4 were vaccinated.

Though Quebec has adopted the federal vaccination target, Ontario's public health ministry is still reviewing it.

Pilot project started this year

One of the main challenges is dispelling parents' misconceptions about their children being too young for the vaccine, according to public health officials on both sides of the river.

This year, Ottawa Public Health launched a pilot project at the 10 schools with the lowest rate of parent consent for vaccines.

Health care providers have started sitting down with parents from those schools to ease their fears.

"In that session, we really talk about this being a vaccine against cancer, and not so much for them to think about it as a sexually transmitted infection," said Lorette Dupuis, immunization program manager for Ottawa Public Health.

Lorette Dupuis is the immunization program manager for Ottawa Public Health. (CBC)

Vaccine protects for years

HPV is a highly contagious infection transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the vaginal area, vaginal or anal intercourse, or oral sex.

In Canada, three out of four sexually active people will have at least one HPV infection in their lives.

The vaccine, however, is typically offered long before children become sexually active.

Though it's been available in Ontario schools since 2007, it still carries a stigma for some parents, according to Dr. Carol McConnery, a medical consultant with the Outaouais public health department.

"When you talk about sexually transmitted disease in a nine-year-old, a lot of parents are like, 'Not my child!'" McConnery said.

The vaccine protects children for approximately 10 years or more, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Studies have shown the immune system responds best to the HPV vaccine between 9 and 14 years of age.

It's offered free of charge in Grade 4 in Quebec and Grade 7 in Ontario.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the vaccines offer protection for life. They offer what the Public Health Agency of Canada says is "long-term protection" of approximately 10 years or more.
    Nov 09, 2018 9:59 AM ET

With files from Radio-Canada's Laurie Trudel