Windsor Humanist Society

September 19, 2007

Generation of Ontario women risk cervical cancer as publicly-funded Catholic educational leaders debate vaccine

Filed under: Uncategorized — moderator @ 10:21 pm

Catholic educational leaders across Ontario are debating whether to allow Grade 8 girls to get HPV Pap smearthe new HPV vaccine in school, amid fears the controversial needle effectively condones the kind of premarital sex their religion condemns.

The Halton Catholic board voted last night to let public health officials enter board elementary schools to administer the vaccine against human papilloma virus, the cause of most cases of cervical cancer.

The Toronto city board is to consider the issue tomorrow, and a Northern Ontario Catholic board will do so next month, after the province’s bishops weighed in with a pastoral letter on the question last week.

It is up to parents to decide whether their daughters get the vaccine, but HPV can only be contracted through sex, and sex outside marriage carries “profound risks to a young person’s spiritual, emotional, moral and physical health,” the Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

Ontario and three other provinces — Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island — are the first to launch school-based programs for administering the shots.

Anthony Danko, the Halton trustee who has submitted a motion to bar the HPV program from his board’s schools, said the vaccine’s moral ramifications rank high among his several concerns.

“It’s presuming that they’re going to have sex. This may be the reality, but it’s not a very hopeful attitude,” Mr. Danko said.

“We’re teaching abstinence and on the other hand we’re saying, ‘Here’s protection, just in case.’ It’s kind of a contradiction.”

Reverend David Wilhelm, another trustee, addressed the board last night, before the motion was defeated four to three: “What the bishops are telling us is that parents have the right and the responsibility to make these decisions for their children. I don’t think any of us have the right to take that away. Sometimes there is a tendency for us to want to take responsibility for the decisions of other people but as trustees, that goes well beyond what we’re here for.”

Oliver Carroll, chairman of the Toronto board, dismisses arguments that offering HPV immunization is a tacit vote in favour of unmarried young people having sex. “I can’t imagine too many parents would be encouraging their 13-, 14-year-old children to engage in sexual activity. But we recognize the world around us,” Mr. Carroll said.

“From my perspective, and I think the majority of the board, this is a health issue, and it’s a means to protect females from genital warts and cervical cancer … At the end of the day you balance off two moral obligations.”

He said “one or two” members of his board have moral objections to the needle being given to young girls in their schools, but they are in the minority, and the board is likely to give the program a green light, with parents making the final decision in individual cases.

The HPV vaccine, also known by its brand name Gardasil, is considered by many experts to be a major public health advance, providing safe protection against cancer by preventing an infectious disease. Studies indicate that it stops four types of the virus, which account for about 70% of cases of cervical cancer. The illness kills close to 400 Canadian women each year, with 1,350 new cases annually.

The federal government allotted $300-million in the last budget for provincial HPV vaccine campaigns, after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended females age nine to 26 should receive it. Controversy has arisen in recent months, however, partly because the funding was announced after extensive lobbying by Merck, which makes Gardasil, and because of the lack of long-term research on its efficacy and safety.

Dr. Bob Nosal, medical officer of health for Halton, said it is a safe and effective vaccine and giving it to young girls acknowledges the nature of adolescent behaviour. “If the teaching was going to dissuade all Catholic girls from having sex, then you probably wouldn’t need the vaccine,” he said. “But the reality is, and the stats show it, that a significant portion of high school and certainly university students are engaged in sexual activity, and the transmission is going to occur.”

In their letter, the bishops express “regret” that the program was introduced in Ontario schools without more study and public education. The note urges parents to keep in mind some important considerations when deciding whether to let their daughter have the shot, saying the vaccine could have “unintended and unwanted consequences.”

“Sexual activity is appropriate only within marriage,” they write. “Outside of marriage, abstinence is not only clearly the choice that leads to spiritual and moral well-being, but it is obviously the best protection against risks of disease.”

Mr. Danko said he is also concerned children could be vaccinated against the wishes of parents, noting that provincial law allows public health officials to override parents’ objections if a child opts for such a needle. However, Dr. Nosal said his nurses have no intention of vaccinating children against their parents’ wishes.

The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, based in Sault Ste. Marie, has asked for more information before it decides whether to allow the shots at its schools, feeling the program was implemented too quickly, with not enough notice.

“Our biggest concern is we don’t have very much information on this,” said Marchy Bruni, chair of the Huron-Superior board.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 19, 2007 article by Tom Blackwell and Katie Rook  in The National Post

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  1. Government Ignoring Facts About Vaccine

    Letter To Editor – The Windsor Star – Nov 23, 2007 from Terry Snyder (Executive Director “Straight Talk Youth Counselling Windsor-Essex County”)

    We would like to share some concerns and questions on the HPV vaccination program.

    Why have the Stephen Harper and Dalton McGuinty governments ignored an August 2007 report of the National Vaccine Information Center (a non-profit organization for the protection against the misuse of vaccines) and previous ones? It stated that in the U.S., there have been 2,207 adverse reactions associated with Merck’s Gardasil vaccination.

    Among them: five girls died; 31 were considered life-threatening; 1,365 required a visit to the emergency room of which 451 have not recovered; and 51 were disabled.

    Though epidemiological studies and analysis cannot prove causal relationship, they can infer a very serious concern. Besides, many researchers have pointed out its inadequate testing on young girls in terms of numbers and followup.

    Are parents going to be informed of these concerns if they sign the permission forms?

    Why are all the Ontario school boards except the Huron-Superior District Catholic Board allowing the public health department into their schools to administer it? Girls who take the shots will be known by their classmates and could be considered easy prey for some boys to use them sexually.

    Are parents aware that in giving permission, they are weakening their relationship with their daughters? They are implying that they do not trust or wish them to make the only wise choice for their physical, emotional, and spiritual health (protection against the other 30 STDs, a broken heart, pregnancy, and depression), chastity before and within marriage.

    Hopefully, parents will make the wise decision.

    Comment by moderator — November 30, 2007 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  2. Vaccine Facts Twisted by Author

    Letter To Editor – The Windsor Star – Nov 30, 2007 from Dr. David Williams (Acting Chief Medical Office of Health of Ontario)

    I’d like to respond to an op-ed piece on Nov. 23 (Government Ignoring Facts About Vaccine) by saying the author is misrepresenting information about the possible side-effects of the HPV vaccine. He states some alarming numbers about alleged side-effects from the vaccine before readily admitting that no causal relationship can be made from them.

    All studies on the HPV vaccine show that it is safe and effective.

    Health Canada, which is responsible for reviewing and approving all drug products for sale in the country, approved the HPV vaccine, as did the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

    Neither Health Canada nor the FDA would have approved the vaccine if there had been any concerns about safety.

    As with any vaccine that is administered to large populations, it is to be expected there will be some adverse reactions, most of which are minor in nature (redness, tenderness and swelling at the injection site as well as fever, nausea, dizziness and headaches).

    The real fact about the HPV vaccine is that it’s a safe and effective way of protecting against four types of HPV – including the strains that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

    Receiving this vaccine will prevent deaths among women rather than cause them.

    Comment by moderator — November 30, 2007 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

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