07/07/2015 03:08 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT

B.C. moves to protect at-risk young males with free HPV vaccine

VICTORIA - The British Columbia government is expanding an immunization program to better protect boys and young men who may be more vulnerable of contracting human papillomavirus.

Beginning in September, boys and men up to age 26 will be eligible for publicly funded HPV vaccine that offers broad protection from the most common sexually-transmitted infection.

Currently, girls are eligible for the free HPV immunization program, protecting heterosexual boys, as well, but at-risk boys and young men who live on the street or have sex with males were still unprotected.

Health Minister Terry Lake says it is important to address the gap because the virus can lead to serious health problems and possibly develop into an HPV-related cancers.

Young men and boys who are eligible for the free vaccine can access the vaccine through their local health unit.

Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been provided worldwide and monitoring shows it continues to be a low-risk option to help prevent HPV.