Toronto - Toronto Public Health is distributing information to parents about a new vaccination program to protect young women from Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Grade 8 females will receive the vaccine free of charge in schools beginning mid September. This program is funded by the provincial government and is being delivered by health units across Ontario. The vaccine is voluntary.

“Simply put, this vaccine is about cancer prevention for young women,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Medical Officer of Health and Director of Communicable Disease Control for the City of Toronto. “Last year, there were 500 cases of cervical cancer and 140 deaths in Ontario. This vaccine can prevent serious illness.”

The vaccine is safe and very effective. It is offered in several other provinces and countries throughout the world.

Toronto Public Health is distributing HPV vaccine information and consent forms to parents in 13 languages, and has also developed teaching resources for classroom use. Nurses will visit grade 8 classrooms at pre-arranged times throughout the year to administer the three doses of the vaccine required for protection. Only those students whose parents sign the consent form will be vaccinated. Students who do not get the vaccine at their school may still be vaccinated by their physician but must pay for the shots, which cost a total of $400 to $500 for all three doses.

“We support this vaccine as a complement to cervical cancer screening using the Pap test,” said Patti Payne, Senior Advisor, Prevention, Ontario Division, Canadian Cancer Society. “Vaccination and screening can significantly reduce the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths in Ontario.”

Dr. Yaffe urged parents to talk with their daughters about the vaccine, and about steps they should take to prevent cancer and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The vaccine does not replace the need for regular Pap tests, which are recommended for girls once they become sexually active, nor does it protect against other STIs.

Parents with questions about the vaccine can call the Toronto Public Health Immunization Information Line at 416-392-1250 or visit http://www.toronto.ca/health.