Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2008
English Catholic school cancels HPV vaccinations at school
By SIMON CALDWELL
Catholic News Service
A Catholic school in England has forbidden female students from receiving a cervical cancer vaccination on school premises after injections caused negative side effects during a pilot study.
St. Monica’s Roman Catholic High School Specialist Language College in Bury, near Manchester, has opted out of a government program, which began in September, to vaccinate teenage girls against the human papillomavirus, HPV.
The injections help to develop immunity against 16 of the 18 deadly strains of the sexually transmitted diseases that are linked to 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer. In a letter to parents of 12- and 13-year-old girls, Michael Browne, the chairman of the St. Monica’s governors, said the school was not “the right place” for a course of three injections to be administered.
Pilot study upsets
The letter explained that during a pilot study of the vaccine at a local clinic a “number of our girls were either absent from school the day following their vaccination or had to be sent home from school suffering from dizziness, nausea, joint pain, headaches or high temperature.”
“Therefore, governors have taken the decision not to allow the school premises to be used for this program,” said Browne.
He said he believed that parents would want to conduct their own research into the vaccination and accompany their daughter to their family doctor for the three appointments to “offer support and assistance should she suffer any side effects.”
Media reports suggested that the school’s decision had been made on “moral grounds” in the belief that the vaccine might lead to an increase in promiscuity.
A public health issue
But the letter from the governors said the vaccination program was “primarily a public health issue.”
A Sept. 25 letter from the Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also said the Church had no moral objections to the program.
Oona Stannard, the agency director, said, “It makes sense to take a relatively simple medical step to protect females from this life-threatening disease,” cervical cancer.
“Vaccination against the disease should not be seen as any sort of encouragement to promiscuity but rather a sensible move to protect against an avoidable disease,” she said.
“There is no evidence to suggest that concerns about the risk of contracting this virus influences sexual activity of either males or females,” she added. “HPV is transferred to females from males who are unlikely to be aware that they carry the virus, as they remain free of symptoms. “It would be inhumane to deny females the opportunity to be protected against this potentially devastating infection.”
Stannard said the vaccinations were offered to girls “well before” the time when most young people were vulnerable to sexual pressure.
“There is nothing in Catholic teaching to suggest that there is anything wrong with the use of vaccination against this disease, nor does it undermine the Church’s teachings in regard to human relationships and sexual activity,” she said.
The British government argues that the mass vaccination of female students would save up to 400 lives each year. The mass vaccination program will cost more than US$100 million a year and includes a plan to vaccinate those ages 14 to 18 beginning next year.
HPV is so common the Royal College of Nursing said in 2006 “it can almost be considered a normal consequence of having sex,” estimating between 50 per cent and 79 per cent of all sexually-active women worldwide have a risk of contracting any type of the virus.
In Alberta, two Catholic school boards decided not to participate in a vaccination program.