Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 27, 2007
Cervical cancer vaccine poses ethical dilemma
Medical group calls vaccine 'premature'
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
This fall, Catholic parents of girls from 10 to 13 years old may face a quandary when schools in several provinces start offering a new vaccination program against a sexually-transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
In the last federal budget, Ottawa set aside $300 million so the provinces can mount vaccination programs, using the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil that was approved in Canada a year ago.
HPV causes genital warts and some strains of the virus produce lesions that can lead to cervical cancer.
Several provinces, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Ontario, have announced they will offer the expensive three-shot vaccination series in schools this year.
Newfoundland will offer it to Grade 6 girls, while Ontario will offer it to Grade 8 girls. Other provinces, including Quebec, are expected to join the program.
The Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI) began to raise concerns last February when it called any mass vaccination program "inappropriate" and "unnecessary." Teaching young people to abstain from sexual activity until marriage is the best way to prevent the illness.
In an Aug. 10 interview, CCBI executive director Moira McQueen said this is not a case of vaccinating against a disease like measles or mumps for which there are no other preventive measures.
"It's completely dependent on young girls being sexually active," she said. "There is a rush to vaccinate people who do not need to be vaccinated."
HPV and other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) "are preventable if abstinence is followed," McQueen said.
REAL Women concern
REAL Women of Canada has also come out against the HPV vaccination programs.
"It's almost diabolical what they're doing to these young innocent girls," said REAL Women of Canada National Vice President Gwen Landolt in an Aug. 9 interview.
"These young girls are being made into unwilling medical experiments."
When REAL Women raised concerns in early July, it focused solely on medical reasons.
Landolt said they did so because they hoped their arguments would have more impact.
Landolt has concerns about the limited research data on Gardasil's effects on pre-teen and early teenage girls, as most of the women studied were 16 to 23 years of age. It is unknown how long the drug will provide protection, as HPV can take up to 15 years to become cancerous. She also pointed to known side effects that can include neurological symptoms.
The Canadian Women's Health Network has an even longer list of concerns, even though it acknowledges some information about Gardasil's efficacy appears "promising, but remains uncertain."
It also raises concerns about the cost effectiveness of Gardasil. A series of shots could cost well over $400 per person.
Both women's groups argue there is no epidemic of cervical cancer in Canada - about 400 deaths per year - and that routine Pap tests remain one of the best ways to detect and prevent cervical cancer.
"Unfortunately, marginal-ized women, such as those who are poor, immigrants or minorities and others who lack access to health care programs that include Pap smears are greatly disadvantaged," said a REAL Women news release.
"It is they who should be targeted, not pre-pubescent girls."
As provinces were rolling out their announcements of their vaccination programs, an August article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal concluded the vaccination program was "premature and could possibly have unintended negative consequences for individuals and for society as a whole."