Saskatoon

Catholic bishops issue new letter calling HPV vaccine 'a matter of public health'

Bishops had previously written that 'availability does not mean that everyone must take part'

CBC News

October 06, 2017

The Bishops of Saskatchewan sent out a letter to the Catholic School Board and parents about the publicly-funded school-based offering of the HPV vaccine. (CBC)

Bishops in Saskatchewan are recognizing some of the additional benefits to giving schoolkids a vaccine for the human papillomavirus.

The acknowledgement — while falling short of an explicit endorsement of the province's decision to fund the first-ever offering of the vaccine to Grade 6 boys in Saskatchewan — comes in a follow-up letter released Thursday to parents and Catholic school boards.

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"In conversations with health professionals, we have been introduced to numerous studies which document the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer, but also against other forms of cancer, including throat cancer," the bishops wrote.

The letter was co-signed by Donald Bolen, the Archbishop of Regina; Albert Thevenot, the Bishop of Prince Albert; Murray Chatlain, the Archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas; Kevin McGee, the Saskatoon Diocesan Administrator; and Bryan Bayda, the Ukrainian Eparchial Bishop of Saskatoon.

In a previous letter, sent last week, the bishops recognized that the vaccine is said to prevent a large percentage of the infections that can lead to cervical cancer.

But the bishops also wrote that "although the provincial government is putting significant resources into a public vaccination program, we are all aware that availability does not mean that everyone must take part."

Some doctors in the province reacted to that original letter, saying the vaccine is about preventing disease and not about sex.

The bishops' followup letter echoed part of that message.

"...decisions regarding vaccinations are not only personal, but also a matter of public health and the common good," they wrote.

'Sincerely regret the confusion'

In one area, the bishops walked back their original position.

They had originally written that "the long-term effects [of the vaccine] are unknown."

"We understand that the vaccine is generally considered to be safe," they wrote in the followup letter, after Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, told CBC News the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective.

The bishops said they "sincerely regret the confusion we caused in our [original] letter," adding that Thursday's follow-up letter came after "conversations with health professionals, representatives of health organizations and concerned parents."

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