Saskatchewan bish­ops make waves

Let­ter ex­presses con­cerns about HPV vac­cine to be given to boys in schools

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - CULTURE - MICHAEL JOELHANSEN

Saskatchewan’s Catholic bish­ops are mak­ing their opin­ions known about what some see as a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject.

In a let­ter that was sent out to par­ents of chil­dren in the Catholic school sys­tem in Regina, the prov­ince’s bish­ops of­fer what they call “moral” guid­ance on the is­sue of the Hu­man Pa­pil­loma Virus (HPV) vac­cine. The let­ter comes on the heels of the pro­vin­cial govern­ment mak­ing the de­ci­sion to ex­tend the vac­ci­na­tion to boys in Grade 6. Girls in the same age group have been get­ting the vac­cine since 2008.

The Regina Catholic School Board has since apol­o­gized for the let­ter be­ing sent out.

In the let­ter, the bish­ops in­sist the de­ci­sion on whether chil­dren get the vac­ci­na­tion needs to rest ul­ti­mately with par­ents. The bish­ops also stress the im­por­tance of young peo­ple be­ing dis­cour­aged from par­tak­ing in “pro­mis­cu­ous be­hav­iour” and that the vac­cine could pro­vide kids a false sense of se­cu­rity. The let­ter also raises ques­tions about the sci­ence be­hind the vac­cine, which, they say, is in its early stages.

Donna Pasiech­nik, a spokesper­son with the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety in Saskatchewan said the vac­cine is im­por­tant be­cause the HPV virus is the most com­mon sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion among both men and women in Canada, with 75 per cent of peo­ple hav­ing an HPV in­fec­tion at some point dur­ing their life. She ex­plained that most of the in­fec­tions will gen­er­ally heal on their own, but said there are times when it can lead to can­cer. Ac­cord­ing to Pasiech­nik, women who con­tract HPV are more prone to cer­vi­cal can­cer, as well as can­cer of the anus and vagina, while men may be more at risk of pe­nile can­cers.

She added it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant that the vac­cine be ex­panded to boys now given re­cent devel­op­ments.

“Cana­dian can­cer stats show a huge spike in the num­ber of mouth and throat can­cers among men over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a 56 per cent in­crease,” she said.

Pasiech­nik said the can­cer so­ci­ety strongly rec­om­mends that par­ents al­low their chil­dren to be vac­ci­nated for HPV as the vac­cine could truly help to pre­vent can­cer.

When asked specif­i­cally about the let­ter sent by the prov­ince’s bish­ops, Pasiech­nik said the so­ci­ety took is­sue with some of the in­for­ma­tion in it.

“The let­ter that went out wasn’t fac­tu­ally cor­rect in some of its state­ments, it talked about the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for the vac­cine be­ing at the early stages and that is sim­ply not true,” she said.

Pasiech­nik ex­plained that the vac­cine has been stud­ied for over 20 years, has been ap­proved by Health Canada for 10 years, and been shown to be safe and ef­fec­tive.

She also took is­sue with the bish­ops sug­gest­ing the vac­cine would give kids a false sense of se­cu­rity and in­flu­ence po­ten­tial be­hav­iour.

“There is no ev­i­dence to support that vac­ci­nat­ing your chil­dren will lead to risky be­hav­iour,” she said.

Pasiech­nik said she un­der­stood that the is­sue is a dif­fer­ent one for the Church, but in­sisted that par­ents need to know the vac­cine is safe and ef­fec­tive.

When asked by the Times-Her­ald for com­ment on the bishop’s let­ter, Holy Trin­ity Catholic School Di­vi­sion di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion Geri Hall said they had not yet re­ceived the let­ter. She said the board has not dis­cussed the is­sue of the vac­cine be­ing ex­tended to boys in the sys­tem, nor has the di­vi­sion had any talks with the Five Hills Health Re­gion or the Cy­press Health Re­gion about the lo­gis­tics of de­liv­er­ing the vac­cine to its male stu­dents.

Hall said the school di­vi­sion’s pol­icy in the past has been to leave the de­ci­sion up to the par­ents. Hall ex­plained that the health re­gions pro­vide a con­sent form that needs to be signed by a child’s par­ent in or­der for them to re­ceive the vac­cine.

She em­pha­sized the school di­vi­sion has a good re­la­tion­ship with the health re­gions they op­er­ate in.

“The health re­gions are very good about in­form­ing us,” she said.

There is no ev­i­dence to support that vac­ci­nat­ing your chil­dren will lead to risky be­hav­iour Donna Pasiech­nik, Spokesper­son, Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety, Saskatchewan

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