Impacts of HPV
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is highly contagious and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin sexual contact (penetration not required) in the genital area or through genital, anal, or oral sex. It is estimated that 75% of Canadians will develop at least one HPV infection in their lifetime, and the highest rates of infection are observed among young people ages 15 to 24.1
It is estimated that 75% of Canadians will develop at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.
HPV affects both genders, and can cause genital warts and nine types of cancers:
Tonsils & vocal cords, tongue, throat, anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, penis
Approximately 90% of cervical cancers are believed to be caused by HPV.3
Eradicating Cervical Cancer – A Global Initiative
Cervical cancer has been identified as a public health problem that can be eliminated over time through consistent vaccination against HPV. Since vaccination is most effective if performed prior to exposure to the HPV virus, a sustained vaccination campaign that vaccinates children before they become sexually active will have a significant impact on reducing the number of deaths due to cervical cancer.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem” recommends a 90-70-90 model, whereby:
- 90% of girls are fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age
- 70% of women are screened with a high-performance test by 35 years of age and again by 45 years of age
- 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment
Health Canada has joined the WHO in this aspirational goal, releasing their “Action Plan for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer in Canada” and Canadian pharmacy professionals will play a crucial role in ensuring equity and access to HPV vaccination. Working alongside other healthcare professionals who provide care to adolescents, pharmacy professionals can assist with achieving the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) plan, to ensure 90% of 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 2025.
How Pharmacy Professionals Can Play a Role
Proximity and access are critical aspects of the patient experience with health care. With pharmacy professionals being in close and regular contact with patients through their roots in communities. They can assess and discuss the protection the HPV vaccine provides. As trusted and trained health care providers, pharmacy professionals can address vaccine hesitancy while also simultaneously sharing the risks of not getting vaccinated, including spreading or acquiring an HPV infection that can potentially become cancerous. Approved by Health Canada, HPV vaccines are indicated for patients up to age 45 and are very safe and offer protection against HPV. Electronic medical record systems like the clinical viewer provide access to digital health records which pharmacy professionals can utilize to follow up with patients that have missed a dose or are eligible. In some cases, patients can receive the HPV vaccine directly from an injection-trained pharmacist without a prescription, or a prescription may be required for insurance. Patients can purchase the vaccine privately at some pharmacies and sometimes it may be covered through private insurance which can significantly reduce the cost. Initiating the conversation about immunization with patients is the first step to ensuring that patients remain up-to-date and are able to make an informed decision.
Let’s Get Vaccinations Back on Track
A vital component of HPV vaccinations is educating the public about the dangers of HPV-related cancers.
- “What is HPV?” Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, https://www.hpvinfo.ca/what-is-hpv/.
- “HPV immunization for the prevention of cervical cancer.” Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, https://www.partnershipagainstcancer.ca/topics/hpv-immunization-policies/.
- Caird H, Simkin J, Smith L, Van Niekerk D, Ogilvie G. The Path to Eliminating Cervical Cancer in Canada: Past, Present and Future Directions. Current Oncology. 2022; 29(2):1117-1122. https://doi.org/10.3390/curroncol29020095.
- “Protecting Your Children Against HPV-Related Cancers.” Federation of Medical Women of Canada, https://fmwc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Ontario_School-Based_HPV_Immunization_Catch-Up_Guide.pdf.
- “HPV immunization policies: Public perceptions of HPV immunizations.” Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, https://www.partnershipagainstcancer.ca/topics/hpv-immunization-policies/public-perceptions/.
- McGillivray, Kate. “Ontario Should Allow More Routine Vaccinations at Pharmacies, Says Pharmacy Association.” CBC News, 24 Oct. 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-vaccinations-pharmacies-record-keeping-1.6222473.