HPV vaccine refused by 2 Alberta Catholic school boards

Two Alberta Catholic school boards will not be offering a controversial vaccine to Grade 5 girls this fall.

Two Alberta Catholic school boards will not be offering a controversial vaccine to Grade 5 girls this fall.

Calgary Catholic school board members voted Wednesday night not to make the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine available in schools.

Trustee Mary Martin said Calgary Bishop Fred Henry didn't want to appear to be condoning pre-marital sex.

"The bishop felt it was a moral issue."

St. Thomas Aquinas school board, south of Edmonton, has also refused the vaccine. At a special board meeting Sept. 19, trustees voted 6-3 against offering the vaccine at their schools, which have about 2,500 students.

Both boards will provide information about where the vaccine is available and let parents make the decision for their daughters.

"When a school board or anyone else allows something to go on in their schools, it's almost seen as an endorsement," said St. Thomas Aquinas board chair Sandra Bannard. "They just didn't want to go down that road, and thought it was more appropriate that this be a parental choice and families decide what's best to do for their daughters."

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

For adult women, it costs $450 to get the vaccine through the Calgary Health Region.

Howard May, a spokesman for Alberta Health, told CBC News Online the department is looking at other ways to make the vaccine available for free to girls in the Catholic school system.

"This is a health issue for us and we are concerned," he said. "Forty women in Alberta die every year from cervical cancer, so we want to ensure the vaccine has as high an uptake as possible and we are going to explore those options and hope to have something more firm to announce very shortly."

Free, voluntary program

Health regions across Alberta are preparing a free, voluntary vaccination campaign in schools that will begin this month.

Girls entering Grade 5 will be offered the HPV vaccine, with the program being expanded to include Grade 9 girls starting in September 2009. Public health nurses will administer the series of three shots and parents will be asked for their consent before their child is immunized.

Each year in Canada, an estimated 1,300 women contract the sexually transmitted virus, which can cause cervical cancer. About 400 women die of cervical cancer annually and it is the second-most-common type of cancer for women between the ages of 20 and 44.

Alberta Health says the vaccine has been proven safe and effective when given early.