Thousands of young people in Groningen and Drenthe will be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can cause cancer, from Wednesday. Two-thirds of them are men, whereas previously the shot was only for women.
The virus can cause cervical cancer, as well as penile and anal cancer, as it became known recently. About 150 young men are diagnosed with penile cancer each year. You can contract the virus through sexual contact. Initially, only girls from the age of 10 were invited to take the vaccine, but now that it is clear that boys can also contract the virus, a catch-up campaign is underway among boys. The girls will once again receive an invitation to be impregnated, if they have not already done so.
Six types of cancer
Friends Daan Hooiveld (24) from Odoornerveen and Steven van der Struik (26) from Kibbelveen let themselves be poked. They did not hesitate for a moment. Hoefeld began studying the virus after seeing the TV commercial: One vaccine protects against six types of cancer. He was dumbfounded. Little did Hoefeld know that the virus could also be harmful to men. Therefore, he considers vaccination a necessity. Otherwise, you might be screwed later, Hoefeld says. “I’d rather reduce the opportunity than take the risk.”
Van der Strick agrees. He had already experienced the life-threatening disease up close. His grandfather died of cancer and his mother had a tumor on the left side of her lung. She has recovered now. “It’s a regular thing in the family.” So it’s best to be on the safe side. “An injection cannot harm, especially if it reduces the risk of cancer.”
GGD Drenthe and Groningen (on behalf of the RIVM) have already started a publicity campaign in mid-January to call on young people to get the HPV vaccine. “It went through posters, YouTube commercials, radio commercials, videos, invitation letters and information,” says Lily Benjamin of GGD Groningen. “On the National Immunization Program website there are videos in which young people talk to a GP, a former HPV cancer patient, and a urologist and gynecologist about HPV vaccination.”
To reach young people, the campaign places great emphasis on social media platforms used by young people. There is a GGD Groningen Instagram aimed at Groningen students The campaign was also shared on radio station FunX, a public channel focused on young people between the ages of 15 and 35. But the young people were also contacted via the dating app Happ’n.
Most girls receive an invitation letter from the age of ten. Since 2022, boys can also get the shot. To date, several thousand agreements have been concluded in Groningen. At GGD Drenthe, around 1,200 HPV appointments were made in the first week, says Alexandra van Schubert, a spokeswoman for GGD Drenthe. Van Schubert says this is only the beginning of the catch-up campaign. Invitation letters could still fall on the doormat until mid-February. Hooiveld has not yet received the invitation letter.
Jeroen (26), from Groningen, had his first HPV appointment on February 3. After reading the letter, it wasn’t a difficult choice for him. “Reduce your risk of cancer by taking two free vaccines.”
In 2009, the first HPV vaccination campaign for girls between the ages of 13 and 16 began. There were many unsubstantiated stories at the time: “The shot can make you seriously ill”, “In other countries girls died from vaccination”, “You can’t have children after vaccination”. One of the instigators of this anti-campaign was the Dutch Cash Punching Association. Partly because of these stories, 40 percent of girls ages 12 to 16 haven’t been vaccinated against HPV, according to RIVM numbers.
A 26-year-old woman from Groningen, who wished to remain anonymous, is still unsure about receiving the vaccination. When she was 12 years old, she did not have any vaccinations at that time, because the possible side effects of the vaccine were not yet clear to her. “The doctor also advised my parents to wait for a while.” Now 14 years later, she’s still under suspicion. You need to know more about the vaccine before making a decision. “Is it still effective now that I’m older?”
Yes, Benjamin replies. She says the vaccine is most effective if you are not yet sexually active. But research from the Health Council shows that the youth vaccine still reduces the risk of HPV cancer.
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