Catholic school board defers to AHS on HPV vaccine
Girls in the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division will be able to receive the vaccine protecting against HPV in their schools beginning in 2014.
At its October board meeting, the local Catholic school board gave its support to an immunization policy that states that Alberta Health Services will be able to administer HPV and other vaccines in the division’s schools. Whereas the division has served as an intermediary, delivering Alberta Health Services vaccination information to students, it will now have AHS directly distributing information to parents and guardians. The decision to consent to any immunization will remain a parental responsibility.
Board chair Adriana LaGrange said Friday that vaccines are a health issue and the board is happy to defer to AHS and those with the proper health-care knowledge to distribute information on any and all vaccines. She said the board wanted to make it clear that it does not endorse any vaccine.
“We were looking at it as an opportunity to be proactive. It’s something that we looked at from the very beginning that there was a gap in our policy regarding all vaccines and the HPV (vaccine) just brought it a little more to light,” said LaGrange.
After Alberta became the last province in Canada to make HPV vaccines available to girls in Grade 5 in 2008, the Catholic board initially voted to allow the vaccine to be administered in its schools, with parental consent. But one month later, after eight Alberta bishops released a letter calling the vaccine into question and suggesting it could promote promiscuity among girls, the board unanimously rescinded the motion.
Human papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause a number of cancers, the most common being cervical cancer. The vaccination can help prevent up to 70 per cent of viral infections that can lead to cervical cancer and up to 90 per cent of those that cause genital warts.
Over the last five years, however, the board has provided information on where vaccinations can be had to any parents seeking them for their children. Thus, LaGrange said she does not see the policy as a big shift, but she did acknowledge that there has been some rethinking of the vaccine.
“It’s something that we’ve wrestled with before . . . We are an educational body, not a medical body. So if the medical profession is endorsing this, Health Canada has endorsed it, etc., etc., that is information parents need to take into account when they make their informed decisions for their children.”
The policy does state, however, that the division maintains the option to review the delivery of vaccines. The board will contact bishops, and if they opt to provide moral guidance on the issue, that information too will be passed on to parents and guardians.
Red Deer family physician Maureen McCall heralded the board’s decision, saying it will greatly increase the number of girls who get immunized. Statistics from the first year the virus was offered in Red Deer public schools showed that there was a 55 per cent uptake from girls who could receive the vaccine in-school, versus a 13 per cent uptake among those who had to go to health clinics to get it.
She said the vaccine is very safe and quite effective, and there is nothing to suggest it encourages increased promiscuity or risky behaviour. While she said the best way to prevent the acquisition of all sexually transmitted infections, including HPV, is through abstinence, and while she encouraged the bishops to provide moral guidance, she compared the vaccination to safe drivers wearing seatbelts.
LaGrange, who is running for trustee re-election in Monday’s municipal election, said new candidates running for the board sat in on the meeting where the policy was approved and she expects that whoever forms the new board after the vote that the policy will remain.
She said implementation will come as early as early 2014.
HPV Canada’s website lists four other divisions in Alberta — including St. Thomas Aquinas, covering Lacombe, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin — that do not allow the vaccine’s deliverance.