The Calgary Catholic school board is putting young girls at risk by banning a vaccine that protects them from a virus that causes cervical cancer into its schools, Alberta's health minister says.

"Some 40 women this year will die of cervical cancer and so I think that the Catholic school trustees and Fred Henry [bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary] need to take those things into account," Ron Liepert said on Friday.


Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert speaks to reporters in Calgary on Friday. ((CBC))

"I would quite frankly encourage the parents of schoolchildren in the Catholic system to contact their school trustees and let them know what they think."

Board members of the Calgary Catholic School District voted on Wednesday night not to allow the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine available in schools, because the bishop did not want to appear to be condoning pre-marital sex.

HPV can cause cervical cancer and is largely transmitted through sexual activity.

The Alberta government is offering the free, voluntary vaccination campaign this fall to girls entering Grade 5, and then to Grade 9 girls starting in September 2009.

Parents will be asked for their consent before their child is immunized.

Liepert said setting up clinics in other locations to give Catholic students equal access to the vaccine will raise costs.

"It costs an awful lot more to run the vaccines on a individual basis than it does co-ordinated with a school vaccine program. And you've got the Calgary Catholic school board which is one of the school boards in the province … continually talking about a shortage of funds. Well, they're not doing much to help it," he said.

The Calgary Catholic School District is the largest in Alberta and serves 44,000 students in Calgary, Airdrie, Cochrane, Chestermere and Rocky View.

The St. Thomas Aquinas school board, south of Edmonton, which serves 2,500 students, also voted this month against offering the vaccine in its schools.