Doctors, parents urge school board to revisit HPV vaccine

Concerned parents and doctors are attempting to persuade the Calgary Catholic School Board and the city’s Roman Catholic bishop to lift a ban that blocks students from being vaccinated against HPV.

CALGARY — Concerned parents and doctors are attempting to persuade the Calgary Catholic School Board and the city’s Roman Catholic bishop to lift a ban that blocks students from being vaccinated against HPV.

HPV vaccine programs have been available to girls in Grades 5 and 9 since 2007.

Experts say they are also a benefit to boys, who can transmit the virus even if not affected by it.

But the programs are still a tough sell in some parts of the country.

The vaccination protects against four strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), the primary cause of genital warts and the agent behind about 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

The Catholic board blocked the vaccination in its schools in 2008, making Calgary the only major Canadian city that doesn’t offer the vaccine to all students.

“It’s important to stress bad things can happen and parents ought to protect their children against foreseeable, possible bad things,” Juliet Guichon, a legal scholar and assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Calgary, said Monday.

Guichon, who is Catholic, made sure her children received the vaccination when it wasn’t available in school.

“We are coming forward to ask trustees to put children first and to stress that publicly funded schools are owned by the public,” she added.

The Calgary board took its cue from Bishop Fred Henry, a staunch opponent of administering the vaccine.

Henry didn’t respond Monday to a request for an interview but made his position clear four years ago.

“It’s a partial solution that doesn’t talk about the emotional, spiritual, the psychological fallout from what we might call sexual promiscuity and it doesn’t advocate sexual restraint,” he told The Canadian Press at that time.

“The vaccine itself is not inherently evil, but as a Catholic institution we should not be undercutting our own message and our own attempt to try and deal with the real cause. The whole cause has to deal with a total sense of reality and not with a little vaccine or a condom or something of that particular nature.”

Pediatrician Dr. Ian Mitchell from the University of Calgary said his group attempted to meet with Bishop Henry to make its case.

“The Catholic School Board continues to tell us that they get advice from Bishop Henry, so we have been in touch with Bishop Henry,” Mitchell said.

“We’ve invited him to presentations. We’ve offered to meet with him to answer questions.

“He’s refused. I can’t dance with a partner who won’t come to the dance floor.”

Guichon said publicly funded Catholic boards in Yellowknife, the Ontario region of Halton and eight school districts in central and southern Alberta continue to ban the vaccine.

Despite the moral opposition to its use, Guichon believes medical proof attesting to its benefit is overwhelming

“It’s hard to debate this because it’s not grounded in evidence or rationality,” Guichon said.

“It’s hard to know what to say because, as I understand the argument, it’s cause and effect. You give the vaccine and the children will become promiscuous. What we see anecdotally is that the children don’t jump into bed — they go out for recess.”

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