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HPV and hepatitis B vaccines protect teens’ present and future health

Feb 13, 2024
Immunization is one of the most effective public health innovations that protects people from contracting serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases.

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By Dr. Colin Lee, Associate Medical Officer of Health 

Immunization is one of the most effective public health innovations that protects people from contracting serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases. As a safe and effective way of preventing disease, publicly funded vaccines are offered at various life stages from infancy to adulthood.

The Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) requires children and youth enrolled in school in Ontario to have received immunizations against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (for those born in 2010 and after) and meningococcal disease or have a valid exemption. Children aged six years and younger typically receive these vaccines from a primary care provider such as a family physician or nurse.

In Grade 7, students become eligible to receive three publicly funded vaccines to protect against meningococcal disease, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), that are provided by public health through a school-based immunization program where nurses visit each elementary school twice a year to offer these vaccines. However, many students born in 2008 were unable to receive their routine immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic and have fallen behind with their routine vaccination schedules.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has been working with families and health care providers to ensure that all students who missed their vaccines, and who remain eligible for immunizations, book an appointment with their local health unit office or with their health care provider, to get caught up.

Although not included in ISPA, the hepatitis B and HPV vaccines are strongly recommended for all students in Grade 7. Both vaccines are extremely important and are highly effective in protecting youth and their future selves from diseases, including cancers caused by HPV.

Hepatitis B is a virus that is transmitted from an infected person’s blood, saliva, vaginal fluids and semen, which can cause chronic liver infections, cirrhosis and liver cancers, which can result in death. Many people who are infected with hepatitis B are initially unaware of the infection, and don’t realize they are infected until the disease has progressed. Although many people will clear acute infections on their own, there is still a risk of becoming a chronic carrier for unvaccinated people. The best way to protect against infection is through immunization.

HPV can cause cancers in the throat (oral pharyngeal), cervix, penis and anus, as well as cause genital warts, and is easily spread. There are over 100 types of HPV. HPV cancers and warts are seen in both men and women and the virus does not discriminate against sexual orientation. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) and it is estimated that over 75 percent of Canadians will have an HPV infection at some point in their lifetime.

It is natural for parents and caregivers to feel uncomfortable about their teens becoming sexually active and it may feel like it is too early for their kids to need protection from STIs. However, immunizations are most effective if they are received before potential exposure to disease, which means ideally getting people immunized when they are young so they are protected when they are older.

According to the Canadian Immunization Guide, the hepatitis B vaccine is 95 to 100 percent effective pre-exposure and the HPV vaccine is highly effective at building immunity to that virus. More than 99 percent of vaccine recipients develop an antibody response to vaccine HPV types after completing the series.

The health unit is strongly recommending that students who missed the opportunity to obtain their Grade 7 hepatitis B and HPV vaccines in school due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, get caught up. As of fall 2023, less than 30 percent of students in Simcoe Muskoka and born in 2008 received their vaccines. This means that approximately 10,000 students currently in Grade 11 still require these vaccines and remain eligible to receive them until the end of August of their Grade 12 year.

If your teen was born in 2008 and is currently missing their Grade 7 hepatitis B and/or HPV vaccines, please visit to book an appointment at one of our local catch-up clinics or contact your family health care provider to book an appointment.  

For more information about routine and required vaccines given to students and the diseases they prevent, please visit To speak with a public health professional, call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

Dr. Colin Lee is an Associate Medical Officer of Health at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. His primary responsibilities are in the areas of vaccine preventable diseases, infectious disease and sexual health.

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