If you had the chance to save a young woman from dying from cancer, what would stop you? The Calgary Catholic School District recently passed a motion refusing to offer the human papillomavirus vaccine to young girls in their schools. The trustees voted six to one to opt out, claiming they feel it would unintentionally send a message that casual sexual activities are okayunder the advisement and guidance of Bishop Fred Henry.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus. It is spread by skin to skin contact with the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva or anus of a person who has HPV. It is important to bear in mind that even without penetration or oral sex, infection can occur.
The reason it is so dangerous is that there has been conclusive evidence showing that approximately 70 per cent of cervical cancer is linked to this sexually transmitted infection-- some 400 women will die of cervical cancer this year in Canada, not to mention hundreds of others who will require intrusive and painstaking treatment.
The decision on whether or not parents should allow their young daughters to receive the vaccine has already generated a lot of controversy. From predictions on whether it will affect their daughter's judgment regarding sexual activity to health concerns and the lack of long term studies. Health Canada claims that it is safe and that side effects have been reported as being minimal.
The fact that the Catholic school board is refusing to offer the vaccine to young women seems a little hypocritical, since the school board does offer Hepatitis B vaccines. While Hepatitis B can be acquired through contaminated blood transfusions, IV drug use or vertical transmission (from mother to child during birth), the predominant way it is acquired is sexual activity.
Giving a couple needles to a nine-year-old is not likely to lead them to more promiscuity. The implications of not receiving the vaccine could very well lead to intrusive surgeries or even result in death. It seems to me that the Catholic school board is playing Russian roulette with the well-being of their students. Although they can advise young people to make healthy choices, it is ultimately the young person's decision. We would all be burying our heads in the sand if we thought none of them are going to engage in premarital or casual sex.
Of course, parents should be the prime decision makers for their children. If the parent believes strongly enough that this is a moral and ethical decision, then allow that parent to deny the vaccine, not the school. Schools are invaluable in children's lives and provide much support for their physical well-being. Receiving vaccines through schools is an extraordinarily effective way of administering them to as many children as possible. If the Catholic school board continues to make decisions like this, I believe they will see less and less students being enrolled in their schools.
One way to guarantee not getting the virus is through safe sex practices, so make your choices wisely and use protection. If university students are interested in getting the vaccine, you'll have to cough up the $404.85 for the three-dose series. But it may be worth it in the end.