Last Catholic school division drops opposition to HPV vaccine

The last domino has fallen in an Alberta-based advocacy group’s quest to make the HPV vaccine available to girls in the province’s schools.

At its May meeting

The last domino has fallen in an Alberta-based advocacy group’s quest to make the HPV vaccine available to girls in the province’s schools.

At its May meeting, the board of the St. Thomas Aquinas School Roman (STAR) Catholic School Division passed a new policy that refers to allowing Alberta Health Services to administer all vaccines within the division’s schools. Previously, the health authority would proffer shots against things like measles, polio and tetanus in STAR Catholic schools but the division had a special ban against the vaccine guarding against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can cause a number of cancers, the most common being cervical cancer.

In its new policy, STAR Catholic — which includes schools in Lacombe, Ponoka, and Wetaskiwin — does not specifically refer to HPV, but the policy includes a section that speaks to the value the board places on “the gift of sexuality.”

“While vaccinating against a sexually transmitted infection is not an inherently evil action,” the policy continues, “This type of vaccination assumes the potential practise of an unchaste lifestyle; a lifestyle that is not in harmony with Catholic teaching.

“The Board encourages parents and/or guardians to consult with their spiritual director, and healthcare provider as they discern consent to a vaccination against a sexually transmitted infection for their children.”

While noting that there is no evidence that suggests receiving the vaccine leads to promiscuity — which had been suggested in a letter signed by Alberta bishops in 2008 — University of Calgary health scientist and campaigner Juliet Guichon said the move represented a compromise that stands to benefit the division’s students.

“If it was a compromise document to open the doors to the vaccine, that’s great. But let’s encourage parents to understand that this vaccine is a revolution in health science because it’s the first vaccine that can help people avoid cancer,” said Guichon.

Guichon’s HPV Canada group started its work in 2012 when there were still 12 school divisions (11 were Catholic) in Canada that did not allow in-school HPV vaccinations. The collective of physicians and health scientists wrote letters to trustees and appeared at board meetings, pushing for them to allow the vaccine that can prevent up to 70 per cent of viral infections that lead to cervical cancer and up to 90 per cent of those that cause genital warts.

In the fall of 2013, HPV Canada succeeded in getting the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division to reverse its ban. The vaccine will be available to girls in Grade 5 and 9 within the division next school year.

Red Deer Catholic created its own immunization policy, which initially included a clause that allowed for the archbishop to provide a “written moral perspective” to be distributed to parents along with health information. The clause was later removed after the archbishop said it may cause some to question the autonomy of the board.

Guichon said some divisions are still sending out the 2008 bishops’ letter to parents, something she said is unfortunate because it can be misleading. She said manufacturers and regulators, anticipating that the vaccine would be controversial, made sure it was testing extensively to demonstrate its safety.

While parental consent is always needed before a child can receive any vaccination, statistics have shown that if an immunization program is made available in schools, immunization rates are significantly higher. Whereas fewer than one in five girls within the Calgary Catholic division got immunized at public health clinics before 2013, now that it is available in the division’s schools, Guichon said rates sit around 70 per cent.

She said the group will now direct its efforts to making sure all Alberta private schools offer the vaccine. Finding out which ones do not currently is a bit harder though.

“We’re counting on parents to tell us that their child is not allowed to get vaccinated in school. And if they tell us, confidentially of course, then we’ll try to respectfully communicate with the trustees so that they understand the benefits of this vaccine to the children in their school,” said Guichon.

Alberta, the last province to implement in-school HPV vaccinations for girls, announced in 2013 that boys will get the same opportunity next school year. The virus can lead to head, neck, anal and penile cancers in males.

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer teacher engages students with “cool” science experiments

On Thursday, he made fire dance to the beat of the music

Province purchases land for new Red Deer courthouse

Construction to begin in the fall of 2019

Parking costs in Red Deer are going up — so are parking tickets

City council raises parking rates by 25 per cent starting July 1

WATCH: Alberta Party leadership candidates in Red Deer

Three people vying to be the leader of the Alberta Party were… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month