Parents of children in the Calgary Catholic School District are getting a chance to have their say on whether their daughters should receive the HPV vaccine at school.
The vaccine is believed to prevent Human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. At least 50 percent of sexually active people will have genital HPV at some time in their lives. It is believed that the virus causes cervical cancer.
Although the Calgary School District requires the vaccine be given to Grade 5 and Grade 9 girls in the public schools, the Calgary Catholic board has refused to do the same, saying it is a matter of faith and they take guidance from their bishop, who has raised concerns around moral issues.
The Catholic board had originally decided against vaccinating female students, but earlier this year the board voted to open the issue for discussion with parents through a series of meetings.
The Catholic board has been widely criticized by health care officials for refusing to provide the vaccine.
After coming under significant scrutiny in recent months, the city’s Catholic school board is taking a second look at its decision four years ago to deny HPV vaccinations in its schools.
Calgary Catholic School District trustees recently voted unanimously in favour of consulting parents on the issue, following discussions with Bishop Fred Henry and in “light of recent medical studies and developments.”
Health advocates and some parents have urged the Catholic board to change its position, and even raised the spectre of legal action to force schools to offer the vaccine.
While this latest decision does not necessarily mean the vaccine will soon make it into schools, the move to ask parents for their views is significant.
Once that consultation is finished, the board will make a decision.
“We hear both sides of this,” Catholic board chairwoman Mary Martin said. “There are parents who would love to have this in the schools, but there are also many parents who don’t.”
The consultation with parents has the support of the bishop, but Martin declined to reveal exactly what he has told trustees.
Martin said a lot less was known about the vaccine four years ago when trustees decided it should not be offered in schools.
“The fact is there is now a sufficient body of new information that requires that we bring this back to our community,” she said.
Kathy Savoia, who has two daughters, attended a meeting for parents at Bishop Carroll High School.
“As a physician, on a daily basis I’m dealing with women who’ve had HPV infection. I’ve had women die of cervical cancer in my practice. It’s ridiculous to me that we have this vaccine that’s proven to help and we’re not employing it across the board in all girls,” said Savoia.
In the past, the board said the vaccine would compromise its stance on chastity.
“I don’t think the fact that they’re getting a shot promotes promiscuity,” said parent Kathleen Everest.
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