HPV vaccine could encourage sexual activity

  • August 27, 2007
HPV.jpgOTTAWA - This fall, Catholic parents of girls from 10 to 13 years of age may face a quandary when schools in several provinces start offering a new vaccination program against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.

In the last federal budget, Ottawa set aside $300 million so the provinces can mount vaccination programs, using the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil that was approved in Canada a year ago. HPV causes genital warts and some strains of the virus produce lesions that can lead to cervical cancer.

Several provinces, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and  Ontario, have announced they will be offering the expensive three-shot vaccination series in schools this year.

The Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI) began to raise concerns last February, calling any mass vaccination program an “inappropriate” and “unnecessary” response to an illness that can best be prevented by teaching young people to abstain from sexual activity until marriage.

CCBI executive director Moira McQueen said this is not a case of a vaccinating against a disease like measles or mumps for which there are no other preventive measures.

“It’s completely dependent on young girls being sexually active,” she said. “There is a rush to vaccinate people who do not need to be vaccinated.”

HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases  “are preventable if abstinence is followed,” McQueen said. She raised concerns that a government-mandated program would possibly end up encouraging grade school girls to engage in sexual activity because they might think they are protected. Assuming these girls are going to be sexually active anyway is the wrong message to send them, she said.

REAL Women of Canada has also come out against the HPV vaccination programs.

“It’s almost diabolical what they’re doing to these young innocent girls,” said REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt. “These young girls are being made into unwilling medical experiments.”

The Canadian Women’s Health Network has an even longer list of concerns, even though it acknowledges that some of the information about Gardasil’s efficacy appears “promising, but remains uncertain.” The network objects to some of the “very misleading” marketing of the drug as a cervical cancer vaccine, because it does not eliminate all causes of cervical cancer. It also raises concerns about the cost effectiveness of this relatively expensive vaccine. A series of shots could cost well over $400 per person.

Both women’s groups argue there is no epidemic of cervical cancer in Canada — about 400 deaths per year — and that routine Pap tests remain one of the best ways to detect and prevent the cervical cancer. HPV infections often go away on their own in women with healthy immune systems.

As provinces were rolling out their announcements of their vaccination programs, an August article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal  concluded the vaccination program was “premature and could possibly have unintended negative consequences for individuals and for society as a whole.”

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