THREE months after funding for the HPV vaccine was extended to cover males, a Gisborne health provider has asked eligible boys if they want it and the answer has been a near-unanimous “yes”.
Turanga Health community nurses offer cover at 11 rural schools in Tairawhiti which between them have about 45 year-eight boys on their rolls.
Of those, 41 boys have consent from their caregivers to be vaccinated against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).
That's an uptake rate of around 91 percent – well up on the 66 percent average coverage for girls across the country. It’s also considerably higher than the 72 percent average recorded in the wider Tairawhiti region, and the 75 percent target the Ministry of Health hopes to reach for HPV vaccinations in New Zealand.
Turanga Health community nurses Aimee Milne and Reena Rivera believe straight-talking has been key to getting parents and caregivers on board.
They don't talk as much about growths-on-genitals as they do about heading off life-threatening diseases, says Aimee.
“We talk to the kids about the vaccine, show them a video about how it works then give them information to take home to their parents so they can decide if it is for them,” she says.
“There are lots of benefits we can talk about but, for us, the emphasis is really on those potentially fatal diseases. We think that's massive.”
Not all of the boys have had their first shots – for reasons such as forgetting their consent forms – but Reena says they do a catch-up visit to ensure the boys are ready for their second shot (and last) shot around September.
“That's why we like to approach them early in the school year, so we can make sure they get both shots for full cover.”
The nurses say that immunisation before the age of 15 means young people need only two doses of the vaccine, rather than three. It also ensures they have full cover well before they consider becoming sexually active and therefore coming into contact with the various forms of HPV.
Since its introduction in 2008 the vaccine has been free for girls (though available to others for $500-$800) because of HPV's relationship with cervical cancer.
Since the start of this year, however, it has also been offered free to boys and University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Helen Petousis-Harris says that's a matter of equity.
“The HPV virus causes cancers that affect them, too, and boys also get genital warts, just like girls,” she says. “Offering this vaccine to all our population makes it much fairer.”
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