Free-Vaccine Project to End
Welch, Mary Agnes, Winnipeg Free Press
Province won't pay for shots after March 31
Manitoba is phasing out free HPV vaccinations for young women, a move that has irked several Winnipeg doctors.
Until March 31, women ages 17 to 26 will still be able to get free shots that guard against the human papilloma virus, which is linked to cervical and other cancers. After March, the vaccine will no longer be covered and will cost women roughly $450 out of pocket.
There are no changes to the five-year-old program that seeks to inoculate nearly every Grade 6 girl as part of the school-based vaccination schedule.
The move, made quietly late last month, shocked many local doctors, especially those who work in women's health.
"I think it's unfortunate," said Carrie Corbett, a Winnipeg obstetrician-gynecologist. "It's a very safe vaccine, and HPV is super-prevalent."
For the last 18 months, women between 17 and 26 have had access to a free course of the HPV vaccine through their doctor's office or neighbourhood clinic. In that period, about 6,000 young women got the shot, a decent rate of uptake, said Michael Routledge, the chief provincial public health officer.
The program, which especially targets women at high risk of contracting HPV, was intended as a trial. Few other provinces offered similar free shots to the same age group. Routledge said Manitoba's vaccine advisory committee recently reviewed all the up-to-date research, looked at what a similar national committee was recommending and decided the benefits of the program were far smaller than those of the in-school effort.
"I wouldn't say it's zero, but our best scientific estimate is the benefit is pretty minimal," Routledge said.
He said the decision was based only on medical evidence, not cost.
Even if the province bought the vaccine at a third of the retail price, the 18-month trial would likely cost close to $1 million.
Denise Black, another Winnipeg ob-gyn, said few doctors and even fewer young women realized the vaccine was available for free during the last 18 months, so ending a program before it could have a broad impact is doubly frustrating. Doctors at Black's clinic in St. Vital make a point of offering the vaccine to most young women they treat, and uptake was strong.
"Overall, though, province-wide, it's been abysmal," Black said. She said the optimal time to administer the vaccine is before the start of sexual activity, but it's never too late to get it.
New research shows the vaccine can help reduce the number of abnormal cells even after a woman has had an abnormal pap smear. …