I ACCUSE CATHOLIC SCHOOLS OF BANNING A JAB THAT COULD SAVE THEIR PUPILS’ LIVES .
” Zingcreed – thinking aloud about religion- is a personal polemic by Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”
Catholic schools in Calgary (Canada) and in Trinidad (West Indies) think if their girls are given an anti-cervical-cancer vaccine it will lead to promiscuity. It seems they want a Calvary in Calgary: young women dying of a preventable Sexually Transmitted Infection because some childless, celibate old bishops see a ‘grave moral issue’ here. The moral issue is whose graves! The Canadian bishops want to sacrifice innocent young lives on the altar of church morality.
Background: HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a group of 40 different viruses infecting the genitals of men and women who are or who have been sexually active. HPV is spread by vaginal, anal and oral sex; it occurs in both gay and straight people. It is not the same as HIV or herpes. Almost everyone has had it at some time in their lives, in fact it is the commonest STI. Often there are no symptoms and it goes away by itself, 90% clear up in 2 years. People may carry it for years unaware they have got it. When symptoms do occur it’s generally as genital warts (cauliflower appearance) or as cervical cancer. This has no symptoms in the early stages – a pap smear is required to test for its presence. The cancer takes 10-15 years to develop. In 2008 3900 American women died as a result. Worldwide the annual death rate is over a quarter of a million.
Vaccine: The only way to control cervical cancer is by pap smears or by vaccine. There is no known cure so prevention is vital and over 90 countries now have mass vaccination programmes. In 2006 Merck brought out Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline brought out Cervarix. The US Center for Disease Control says these vaccines are safe and effective. They are most effective if administered to 12 year olds – 3 jabs over 6 months. This prevents types 16 and 18 viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancer. As this is the second commonest kind of cancer in Canada for women aged 20 to 44 and, as a preventative measure is now available, it doesn’t take a great deal of logic to see that a mass vaccination of school children (or at least girls) could save lives. Imagine, medicine has now given us the power to reduce the death rate from 400 p.a. in Canada alone to almost zero.
The Roman Catholics control schools containing 44000 pupils in Calgary. The State of Alberta, following WHO guidelines rolled out a free voluntary mass immunisation programme in 2008. Most parents wanted their daughters to be safe and the take-up rate was over 80%. While not imposing an outright ban, Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry proclaimed that grave moral issues were at stake, and asked school not to participate in the programme. If church schools were to allow jabs that made sex safer it could be seen as endorsing casual sex. School boards voted on what to do. Most followed their bishop’s advice. (No surprise there then) (Don’t forget the catholic church still advocates condomless intercourse, a method that increases the probability of transmission of all STIs.) “Participation in the programme could have contradicted the church’s teaching that sex should be reserved for marriage, potentially leaving schools in a ‘grave moral compromise’.” (Bishop Fred) Parents were told they could take their daughters to a clinic. (Cost $450!) instead of accepting Alberta’s free jabs. Take up rate in RC schools: 17% only. I think I’d rather my daughter went to a state school!
Activists set up ‘HPV Calgary’. These MDs and parents described bishop Fred as a “non-elected official without expertise in evidence-based medicine or public health.” They pointed to the complete lack of evidence that vaccination led to greater promiscuity or that fear of cancer 10-15 years down the line deters people from casual sex. (It was apparently just a fantasy in an old man’s head.) Distracting issues raised by the church were (i) the vaccine only works on 2 out of 40 strains of HPV (ii) the vaccine doesn’t work on people who have already contracted the virus, i.e. most sexually active persons, (iii) there may be side-effects (iv) there is an attempt being made by the state to bypass parents’ wishes (v) the programme is concentrating on the physical side of a relationship and ignoring social, psychological and spiritual aspects.
But these are relatively trivial aspects compared with life versus death. Balanced on the scales are, on the one side lingering death from cancer; on the other greatly reduced cancer risk plus a slightly increased (but unproven) rate of promiscuity. I accuse Fred of coming down on the wrong side on this one.
Meanwhile in the Caribbean in early 2013 the church was a little more heavy-handed. The Catholic Archbishop, Joseph Harris, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, instructed that “until further notice, no student is to be vaccinated in any catholic school”. He objected to the Ministry of Health about lack of consultation and got the whole nationwide programme stopped in its tracks i.e. non-catholic schools as well as catholic ones. While the Minister of Health had declared Gardasil to be safe the church raised a red herring by citing “serious dangers from the use of the vaccine, including death”. Even Fred hadn’t come up with that one. And that’s not all. The distractors raised by Trinidad Catholics included the following: (i) parental rights and responsibilities are being invaded (ii) the cause of cervical cancer was uncertain (iii) the efficacy of Gardasil was challenged and its severe side-effects were being covered up by a conspiracy (iv) Pap smears alone are adequate (v) abstinence and chastity are the most effective ways of keeping the virus at bay (vi) there are 11 other cancer-causing viruses in the HPV group that Gardasil doesn’t work against (viii) children should be taught self-control and not be allowed to copy behaviour they see on TV so they can preserve themselves for their marriage partners.
In the words of a letter from St Joseph’s Convent to the (Trinidad) Catholic News “When our 11 and 12 year olds are vaccinated against this sexually transmitted disease, are we indirectly sending a strong message that it’s OK to have sex since they are now protected against the disease?” There you have it, a virginal nulparous Catholic nun trying to frighten parents, without any evidence for her claim.
Meanwhile, Trinidad has twice the world average rate of cervical cancer.
Note: the RC church is divided on the issue. The US Catholic Medical Association Position Paper on HPV Immunisation states “The fact that HPV is spread primarily by sexual contact does not render vaccination against it unethical. Healing and preventing diseases, no matter what their source, are acts of mercy and a moral good. Prevention of HPV infection is distinct from, and should not be construed as encouraging, the behaviour by which HPV is spread.”
Both Bishop Fred and Archbishop Joseph backed down. Kids in Catholic schools in both countries may now be vaccinated against HPV as long as their parents give their consent.
So, between 2006 when the vaccine was first available, and the time of writing, 2013, my accusation was on the nail. Some catholic pupils got cancer when it could have been prevented. The church should now pay for pap smears tests on a regular basis for all girls for at least the next 15 years.
Will the church’s abuse of our children never stop?
What will they come up with next?
(i) Catholic News (Trinidad) 3/2/2013
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