Bishops' original HPV vaccine letter 'out of date': archdiocesan theologian

A theological advisor for the Archdiocese of Regina says the original letter issued by Saskatchewan bishops was based on a previously-existing "out of date" letter. "10 years ago there was a lot we didn't know," he says.

'10 years ago there was a lot we didn't know': church advisor explains shift between 2 letters sent to parents

Brett Salkeld, the archdiocesan theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina, says the revised letter on the HPV vaccine with updated research on the vaccine's safety and benefits is 'about getting the right information out and then having people make their decision with good information.' (CBC)

A theological advisor for the Archdiocese of Regina says the original letter issued by Saskatchewan bishops about the plan to offer a vaccine for the human papillomavirus to Grade 6 boys in the province was based on a previously-existing "out of date" letter.

An initial letter dated Sept. 25 — sent to parents and Catholic school boards — stated that "availability does not mean that everyone must take part."

The bishops also expressed a fear that the vaccine, despite its effectiveness in preventing infections that could lead to cervical cancer, could nevertheless "lead to a false sense of security which can contribute to risky behaviour."  

Doctors in Saskatchewan reacted to that letter, saying the vaccine was about preventing HPV-related cancers, not sex. 

A follow-up letter Thursday from the bishops echoed part of that message, saying that "...decisions regarding vaccinations are not only personal, but also a matter of public health and the common good."

CBC News spoke on Friday to Brett Salkeld, the archdiocesan theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina, about the shift between the two letters.

Q: What did you want to convey in the second letter?

A: Basically, the old letter was out of date. And it sort of had slowly gone out of date without anyone noticing. And this year it was brought to our attention and so we wanted to get new information out.

Our position is that parents are the ones to make this decision. But they need to be well-informed in order to make it. And so there was new information out and we thought it was important to convey that.

Q: How do you think the second letter may have cleared up the confusion?

A: I think there were two real issues with the first letter that were out of date. The first was the medical information was out of date in terms of the impact of the vaccine on health.

And the second thing was its impact on behaviour. And we have research now on both of those issues. And that research is reflected in the new letter. In fact it's even directly referenced. There are studies you can follow up with.

Q: What would you hope parents take from the new letter?

A: I hope that parents are better informed to make this decision for their kids so that they have the most up-to-date scientific information and they can use that to integrate with their own personal concerns and issues and morality and what they know about their own kids to make the right decision for their family.

Q: The [second letter] seems more positive toward the vaccine than the old letter.

A: Absolutely. I mean, 10 years ago there was a lot we didn't know. And the old letter was written in that sort of state of ignorance, really. I mean, not bad ignorance. We literally didn't know. So we registered some concerns that came from not knowing and we know more now.

The research has been largely positive, both on health impacts and on behaviour.  And so it is a more positive letter, absolutely.

Q: What response did you get from parents to this?

A: People who knew the medical literature were concerned. Others, some were happy with it. You know, 'The bishops are taking a stand.' And so it's important for us to communicate to those people that it's not a matter of bishops caving into the media or giving up on church teaching. It's really about getting the right information out and then having people make their decision with good information.

with files from Stefani Langenegger