Saskatchewan bishops make waves
Letter expresses concerns about HPV vaccine to be given to boys in schools
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