AHS needs to get it right with vac­ci­na­tions

AHS needs to tighten safety pro­to­cols after child ac­ci­den­tally given HPV vac­cine

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA SI­MONS psi­mons@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Pau­lat­ics www. face­book.com/EJPaulaSi­mons

Any par­ent might well be con­cerned if his or her child were vac­ci­nated at school with­out parental con­sent. I’m about as pro-vac­ci­na­tion as it gets, but I would have been up­set if some­one had given my kid a shot with­out check­ing with me first. I might have been even an­grier if it had hap­pened by ac­ci­dent.

Now, imag­ine you’re John Tomkin­son.

Tomkin­son is a for­mer chair­man of St. Thomas Aquinas Ro­man Catholic Schools, a di­vi­sion south­west of Ed­mon­ton. Back when he was a Catholic school trustee, he was op­posed to al­low­ing Al­berta Health Ser­vices to ad­min­is­ter Gar­dasil, the hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus (HPV) vac­cine, in his dis­trict’s schools.

HPV is a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion linked to gen­i­tal warts, cer­vi­cal can­cer and can­cers of the throat and gen­i­talia.

Gar­dasil is a safe and ef­fec­tive way to com­bat those can­cers.

But Tomkin­son be­lieved ad­min­is­ter­ing the shot was con­trary to Catholic val­ues.

None­the­less, the school board voted to al­low AHS to ad­min­is­ter Gar­dasil.

But the dis­trict came up with a strong “hands-off” pol­icy — one that Tomkin­son helped write — which al­lowed AHS to use school dis­trict space to ad­min­is­ter the vac­cine, but only with the spe­cific con­sent of in­di­vid­ual par­ents.

But Mon­day, some­thing went side­ways.

Tomkin­son’s son was ac­ci­den­tally given a dose of Gar­dasil at his school in We­taski­win — with­out the con­sent of his par­ents.

“We’re fu­ri­ous,” said Tomkin­son. “My wife called me at work, in tears and an­gry. This can’t be un­done.”

“Al­berta Health Ser­vices called it ‘an un­for­tu­nate er­ror.’ Well, I think an ‘un­for­tu­nate er­ror’ is when one of my kids spills milk at the sup­per ta­ble.”

Tomkin­son and his wife have had their kids im­mu­nized against the usual child­hood dis­eases.

But his per­sonal con­cerns about Gar­dasil aren’t just re­li­gious. He doesn’t be­lieve the vac­cine has been ad­min­is­tered long enough for there to be good data about its long-term health ef­fects.

Now, he’s out­raged his child was im­mu­nized with­out his per­mis­sion.

“There’s a rea­son we have to con­sent. Yes means yes and no means no. And the gov­ern­ment has no right to medicate chil­dren with­out parental con­sent.”

“AHS apol­o­gizes to the fam­ily and those af­fected by this er­ror,” the agency said in an email Wed­nes­day.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate that im­mu­niza­tions are a sen­si­tive is­sue for some, and that is why we have pro­cesses in place to en­sure that we gain con­sent from par­ents be­fore im­mu­niz­ing a child. Vac­ci­na­tion er­rors are ex­tremely rare. We are re­view­ing this in­ci­dent to better un­der­stand what hap­pened, and to help us pre­vent such er­rors in the future.”

Now, I don’t think for a minute this was some gov­ern­ment plot to vac­ci­nate Tomkin­son’s son by stealth. De­spite Tomkin­son’s con­cerns, the HPV vac­cine is an ef­fec­tive tool to fight cer­vi­cal can­cer, which kills hun­dreds of Cana­dian women ev­ery year.

I don’t think it en­cour­ages promis­cu­ity; I think it re­duces need­less suf­fer­ing. I made cer­tain to have my daugh­ter vac­ci­nated when she was young. I’d en­cour­age any other par­ent to do the same.

But that’s not the point. The Tomkin­sons made a dif­fer­ent choice. I don’t agree with their choice or their rea­son­ing. But the de­ci­sion was theirs alone to take. I can’t blame them for feel­ing be­trayed by a health-care sys­tem that was sup­posed to pro­tect them, but which vi­o­lated their free­dom of con­science in­stead.

We shouldn’t have an im­mu­niza­tion clinic run so ca­su­ally that mis­takes like this can hap­pen. Some chil­dren are se­verely al­ler­gic to the in­gre­di­ents in par­tic­u­lar vac­cines. Some have med­i­cal con­di­tions that make cer­tain im­mu­niza­tions dan­ger­ous. The con­se­quences of an er­ror such as this could be fa­tal in other cir­cum­stances.

Tomkin­son is an air traf­fic con­troller. Prevent­ing ac­ci­dents is lit­er­ally his busi­ness. And he’s unim­pressed with what he’s seen of the AHS safety cul­ture.

“The last time some­thing like this hap­pened, AHS said they were go­ing to put more checks in place. That’s ob­vi­ously not work­ing. They need to change their pro­cesses, not just spout plat­i­tudes.”

Tomkin­son’s not wrong. We need better safety pro­to­cols, be­cause there’s an­other im­por­tant pub­lic health is­sue at stake. There’s al­ready far too much gen­er­al­ized anti-vax sen­ti­ment out there, far too many peo­ple who’ve been fed non­sense con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the dan­gers of im­mu­niza­tion.

When AHS makes a mis­take like this, it makes doubters and cyn­ics more sus­pi­cious. If we want peo­ple to have faith in the health-care sys­tem, it has to be wor­thy of their trust.

DAVID BLOOM

John Tomkin­son, for­mer chair of the St. Thomas Aquinas Ro­man Catholic Schools board, is fu­ri­ous with Al­berta Health Ser­vices for im­mu­niz­ing his son with the HPV vac­cine with­out au­tho­riza­tion.

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