25 Sep 2008

2 Alberta Catholic school boards won't offer HPV vaccine

Vancouver Sun - September 25, 2008

by Sarah McGinnis | Canwest News Service

CALGARY - A pair of Alberta Catholic school districts have declined to participate in a provincial program to immunize schoolgirls against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Calgary Catholic School District and the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic division in south-central Alberta have decided not to take part in the program.

Trustees for Calgary's Catholic board - which has a student population of 44,000 - voted six to one Wednesday against making the vaccine available in its schools.

"This is a moral issue and a spiritual issue and not an educational one," said trustee Mary Martin, during a brief statement.

The St. Thomas Aquinas board, which represents more than 2,000 students in the Ponoka, Beaumont, Leduc and Drayton Valley areas, announced the decision on their website.

"The board would like to emphasize that this decision was made following thorough research into both sides of this debate from a moral and a health perspective," said their web statement.

More Catholic school boards are expected in the coming weeks to reopen the debate on administering the HPV vaccine in their schools this fall, said Ted Paszek, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association.

The Alberta government announced the voluntary program in June, saying the vaccine can prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancers by targeting four strains of the human papillomavirus.

Cervical cancer kills 40 Alberta women every year.

Health regions are preparing the (HPV) vaccine program for Grade 5 girls. It is expected to begin later this month or in early October.

The voluntary program has generated considerable debate in Alberta's Catholic school boards. Some have questioned whether it is appropriate to inoculate against a virus largely transmitted through sexual activity given the church's position on premarital sex.

Most Catholic school districts are expected to make a decision on the matter this month.

Last Friday, representatives from all 23 Catholic school boards in Alberta and Yellowknife met to discuss the issue.

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