HPV vaccine for the lads

If you haven’t caught up – and you have a teenage lad in your household – NEWS FLASH – the HPV vaccine is now funded free for the blokes.

The HPV vaccine (or the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine) has been around for teenage girls for a good few years now, but it’s only newly available for the boys. Just this January in fact.

It’s an ‘interesting’ vaccine to talk about because it’s one that isn’t about protecting your baby from getting measles or whooping cough, from someone sneezing or coughing on them. It’s about protecting them from one day contracting a sexually transmitted virus, known as wart virus that can in some cases go on to cause cancer. You’re talking then about your child becoming sexually active one day – so a different sort of informed consent process altogether. Genital warts is not really a comfortable discussion to have off the bat, so go google it if you want the low down on it all – or here’s the edited highlights if you’re interested.

The NZ patient information site tells me there are more than 30 HPV types that can infect the genital areas – some cause warts, others cause internal issues like cervical cancer – and if it’s your lucky day, you can have more than one sort. The virus lives on the surface layers of genital skin, so the most common way of spreading HPV is through direct contact between infected skin and non-infected skin, so being sexually active is the risk factor to being exposed to the virus. And although condoms are good standard practise, they don’t help here too much, because it is not spread though body fluids, but from skin to skin contact. 70% of partners of people with HPV, also have the infection, so all in all best bet is to not have the virus in the first place! And given most people don’t even know they have it, being sexually active is altogether a bit of a game of Russian Roulette.

So, having waded through my ‘edited highlights’ (and believe me they are edited as there is much more I could say but you may not want to know that much info) avoiding this virus is obviously a good idea.

One way to do that is to not be sexually active. Yeah, right. Another way is to take up the offer of the free vaccine. For the girls, it has been offered at age 12 from 2008. The rationale was I guess that if the girls did not contract the sexually transmitted virus due to vaccination, the boys who were their sexual partners would then be protected from the virus. Good start, but not the whole picture.

So… the boys can now get the vaccine. I noticed a US site was saying cases of anal cancer and cancers of the mouth/throat are on the rise for men, and that unlike cervical cancer, there are no screening tests for these cancers, so they are often caught at a later stage when they are more difficult to treat.

Reason enough me to line my lad up and make his first HPV vaccination appointment this January. He’s not beating me to a grave. That’s not the natural order of things. That of course is the ultimate ‘side effect’ of this nasty virus, but I also figure why have to deal with this sort of stuff in life that can be prevented if possible.

Go talk to your GP about the vaccine, and think ahead for your kids. From 1 January 2017, HPV immunisation is free for everyone, male and female, aged 9 to 26, including non-residents under the age of 18.