An increasing number of Catholic school boards across Ontario are voting in favor of allowing public health nurses to administer the controversial HPV vaccine in their schools despite the bishops’ warning against it, reports The Globe and Mail.
In a memo distributed to Catholic school boards last week, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that, while parents have the "right and responsibility" to decide whether their daughters be vaccinated, more research and public education into the program is required.
"The bishops of Ontario regret its introduction without further opportunity for thorough study," the statement said.
In March, the federal government announced a $300-million funding package to be shared by provinces that agreed to add HPV to their free school-based vaccination programs. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, which leads to cervical cancer. The vaccination program would be for young female students. In Ontario, it would be administered to Grade 8 girls.
The announcement stunned public health officials because it came well before the Canadian Immunization Committee had reported back on whether the vaccine should be publicly funded.
The drug, marketed by Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. under the name Gardasil, has show in trials to provide nearly full immunity to four types of the virus.
According to the Globe and Mail, several boards referred to the bishops’ letter when debating the issue recently, including the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, which voted unanimously to delay the program pending more details from the Ministry of Health.
The main concerns voiced by opponents of the vaccination program are that vaccinating the girls assumes that they will have pre-marital sex and that the immunizations could encourage promiscuity by eliminating HPV as a potential deterrent for having sex.
Nonetheless, trustees at the Toronto Catholic District School Board voted 9-3 in favor of the HPV vaccine in its schools. The board also voted in favor of sending home a package to parents that includes the bishops' letter and a cover letter that says the schools are simply a venue for the vaccination, and allowing their use does not necessarily reflect the board's moral views.
The board also agreed to lobby other levels of government to expand the free vaccination program to all eligible women.
On Tuesday, the Halton Catholic District School Board in a close vote, (4-3) decided against banning a public health professional from administering the vaccine at their schools.