'Don't let our children fall through the cracks!' - Women physicians urge Ontario government to take additional steps to fix crisis with school vaccinations and increase HPV immunization

Shots missed during pandemic need to be caught up quickly to prevent future serious illnesses, including meningitis and cancer

TORONTO, Oct. 3, 2022 /CNW/ - The Federation of Medical Women of Canada (FMWC) is calling on the Government of Ontario to take additional steps to further expand programs to alleviate the crisis of missed routine immunizations of school children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federation of Medical Women of Canada (CNW Group/Federation of Medical Women of Canada)
Federation of Medical Women of Canada (CNW Group/Federation of Medical Women of Canada)

School vaccinations are used to prevent many serious illnesses such as meningitis and cancer, not only during school years, but throughout an individual's life. One of the important vaccines is against human papillomavirus (HPV) which is the cause of nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer in women, and causes other cancers in both men and women.1

However, as of the 2020-21 school year, only one per cent of 12-year-olds in Ontario were up to date with their immunization against HPV, due in large part to school vaccination programs being disrupted by the pandemic. The HPV vaccination rate is the lowest of the three major school-based vaccination programs monitored by Public Health Ontario. The others, for hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis (MCV4), are both at 17 per cent.2

By comparison, the rates for 17-year-olds who received school-based vaccinations prior to the pandemic were 94 per cent for MCV4, 77 per cent for hepatitis B and 63 per cent for HPV, indicating how much work is needed to catch up.3 The latter rate of HPV vaccination was well below Canada's international commitment of achieving a target of 90 per cent vaccination of young people for HPV.

The week of October 3 is HPV Prevention Week in Canada and the FMWC is encouraging the Ontario government to act: "Don't let our children fall through the cracks – help prevent HPV and cancer now!" The government has put in place a preliminary plan and invested in public health to help address missed vaccinations. However, more can be done and the FMWC is calling upon the Ontario government to better support health system stakeholders to ensure all eligible school children are able to receive HPV vaccinations.

The great speed of and the lessons from the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program should be leveraged to solve this new public health vaccination issue, including wider access to vaccines in non-traditional locations, strong public communications and an enhanced immunization registry accessible to all health care providers like the COVAX system.

All of these tools should be harnessed again for HPV vaccinations and the FMWC is calling for the government to implement the following key steps in collaboration with health system stakeholders:

  1. Adopt HPV vaccination targets and monitor: Set clear catch-up goals and ensure effective tracking of progress to achieve them.

  2. Facilitate access to HPV vaccinations and track: Expand the HPV vaccination program to high schools to allow students who missed shots to catch up, allow pharmacists to deliver the vaccinations and track progress through a new centralized electronic immunization registry.

  3. Communicate: Implement a robust and coordinated communications plan to increase public awareness of the need for vaccinations and how to get them.

"Building on the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program, we can do better and ensure children are caught up with the vaccines they missed during the pandemic," said Dr. Vivien Brown, a Toronto family physician who is Chair of the HPV Immunization Task Force and Board Member of Immunize Canada. "We have an opportunity to achieve a high HPV immunization rate. This will protect our children and our healthcare system from paying a very heavy price in the future. If we immunize now, we prevent cancer and other serious diseases."

It appears Ontarians are anxious to be given the tools to meet this challenge. A recent survey of Ontario parents with children aged 10 to 18 showed they are worried about the issue with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) saying they are somewhat or very concerned about the vaccines their children have missed at school.4

"While COVID-19 was the cause of the slipping in our HPV and other school vaccination programs, it also shows us what we need to do, and can do, to solve it," said Liz Ellwood, a cervical cancer survivor from Ottawa and long-time advocate for HPV education and vaccination. "We really can spare our children from having HPV-related cancers if the Ontario government, the medical community, schools and parents all work together and urgently to ensure they get vaccinated as they should."

As part of HPV Prevention Week, the FMWC is supporting, along with Merck Canada Inc., a Longwoods Leadership Discussion with clinicians and public health experts on this important public health issue on Monday, October 3, 1:30-2:30pm (EDT). For more information and to register to this event, which will be moderated by The Globe and Mail's health news reporter Kelly Grant, visit: https://bit.ly/3xGcx2u. A recording of the event will also be posted to Longwoods YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/longwoodstv

About the Federation of Medical Women of Canada

The Federation of Medical Women of Canada (FMWC) is a national organization committed to the professional, social and personal advancement of women physicians and to the promotion of the well-being of women both in the medical profession and in society at large. Founded almost 100 years ago and with branches across the country, FMWC seeks to be the networking and professional development home for all Canadian women in the medical profession while being the preeminent advocate for women's health across Canada. For details visit fmwc.ca.

REFERENCES

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (February 2022); Cancers caused by HPV: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html#:~:text=Cervical%20cancer%20and%20HPV,diagnosed%20with%20a%20cervical%20precancer

 


2 Public Health Ontario, Surveillance Report – Immunization Coverage Report for School-Based Programs in Ontario: 2019-20 and 2020-21 School Years: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/i/2021/immunization-coverage-2019-2021.pdf?sc_lang=en

 


3 Public Health Ontario, Surveillance Report – Immunization Coverage Report for School-Based Programs in Ontario: 2019-20 and 2020-21 School Years: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/i/2021/immunization-coverage-2019-2021.pdf?sc_lang=en

 


4 19toZero, School, School-based vaccine survey, August 2022, Slide #15, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vS6xry9wa6oRhE4yVAWrSdBCVNXRQkY4vZiw5A4LQmZr1Xtf8G1FhJbXFWuMF8tJg/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=10000&slide=id.g144139532ea_0_91


SOURCE Federation of Medical Women of Canada

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