25 Sep 2008

School bans girls from cancer jab

BBC - UK September 24, 2008

A Roman Catholic school has banned pupils from receiving the new cervical cancer vaccine on its premises.

Governors at St Monica's High School in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, believe the school is "not the right place" to administer the injections.

The vaccinations give immunity to key strains of the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus, responsible for 70% of cervical cancers.

The school's head teacher said he could not comment on the governors' decision.

The vaccine is given in three injections over six months and is being offered to all female year-eight pupils.

Experts believe vaccinating against HPV could save hundreds of lives in the UK each year.

The programme has already started in some parts of the country, including Oldham, and pupils in Bury are expected to begin vaccinations over the next few weeks.

Advice from the Roman Catholic Church says there is nothing wrong with allowing the cervical cancer vaccinations to be given.

But governors at St Monica's - which has 1,200 pupils - have sent a letter to parents outlining their concerns about the vaccine.

In it, they question the effectiveness of the injections and point out the possible side effects.

'No moral objection'

The letter says a number of the school's pupils who took part in a pilot study were subsequently off school suffering from nausea, joint pain, headaches and high fevers.

It states: "We do not believe that school is the right place for the three injections to be administered.

"Therefore, governors have taken the decision not to allow the school premises to be used for this programme."

Head teacher Frank McCarron said he could not comment on the governors' decision.

Although some religious groups are opposed to the vaccine because of fears it may encourage promiscuity, the governors make no moral objection to the programme.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Salford said: "The diocese and Catholic schools board do not have a moral objection, but it is up to individual schools to decide whether to allow the vaccinations to be carried out in school."

Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, Schools Secretary Ed Balls said the vaccine would help hundreds of children across the UK.

Mr Balls said: "In general the vast majority of schools will be delivering these vaccinations and they will be doing so to save lives.

"I think schools should be at the centre of their community and I don't think schools walking away from their responsibility for children's health is the way to go."

A spokesperson for Bury Council said: "Bury Council is aware of the issue regarding St Monica's High School and their concerns about allowing students to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine.

"The council views this decision a school matter as each school has the right to make individual decisions regarding issues such as this".

The Department of Health said the HPV vaccine had undergone rigorous safety testing as part of the licensing process.

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