Ontario school boards leave HPV decision up to parents

  • September 20, 2007

HPV.jpgTORONTO - It appears most Catholic school boards in Ontario are on board with the province's plans to vaccinate girls against the HPV virus. It's predicted the vaccine will reduce cervical cancer rates by 70 per cent.

The Toronto, Hamilton, Halton, York, Dufferin-Peel and Halton Catholic school boards have all decided to leave the decision on whether Grade 8 girls should be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease up to parents. The boards will distribute a Sept. 13 letter from Ontario's bishops to parents before nurses show up in schools to administer the shots. However, the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board voted to delay the vaccination program until it has more information from the Ministry of Health.

Some 3,000 Catholic Grade 8 girls in Halton will begin receiving the Gardasil vaccine this week to protect them from the HPV virus.  Halton trustees narrowly defeated a motion to ban public health nurses from giving the vaccine for human papillomavirus. The virus causes 70 per cent of all cervical cancer and 90 per cent of genital warts.

The Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area trustees of Huron-Superior voted down distribution of the vaccine because it was for a sexually transmitted disease.

“We teach abstinence outside marriage,” Huron-Superior trustee Regis O'Connor told The Toronto Star.

The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops' letter about the HPV vaccine to school boards said it is the responsibility of parents to decide whether or not to have their children vaccinated.

“Parents have the right and responsibility to decide whether their daughters should be vaccinated,” said the letter.

Fr. David Wilhelm, a Halton Catholic trustee, argued that the school board should not make the decision for parents.

The vaccine for hepatitis B is already distributed in Catholic schools. The virus which causes hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted sexually.

A $300-million federal government program to have pre-teen girls vaccinated has been controversial because Gardasil maker Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. secured the deal with Ottawa before the Canadian Immunization Committee had made its recommendation regarding the drug. So far, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Ontario have jumped on board with the federal program, distributing the vaccine through the schools.

A number of organizations, including the Canadian Catholic Bioethical Institute and REAL Women of Canada, have raised concerns about the vaccine, saying it could encourage sexual activity. And the Canadian Women's Health Network objects to its marketing as a cervical cancer vaccine.

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