Catholic school bans girls from having cervical cancer jabs
By Nigel Bunyan
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 24/09/2008
A Roman Catholic school has barred 12 and 13-year-old pupils from being immunized against cervical cancer on its premises.
Governors of St Monica's RC High School in Prestwich, Bury, Greater Manchester, reached the decision even though the vaccination programme has been approved by the Catholic hierarchy in Britain.
Although a letter outlining the governors' stance makes no mention of moral objections, at least one of their number has previously criticized the injections for "encouraging sexual promiscuity".
Letters were sent out to the parents of 120 Year 8 girls yesterday. Even if they are prevented from having the injections on school premises, girls will be free to have the inoculations via their GPs.
Both the local diocese and the Catholic Education Service support the NHS initiative to protect teenage girls from the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Health experts believe the programme of three injections over six months will eventually save hundreds of lives a year.
The governors of St Monica's point out in their letter that the vaccine protects against only 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
They also give details of possible side-effects to the injections. Martin Browne, chairman of governors at the 1,200-pupil school, writes: "We do not believe that school is the right place for the three injections to be administered.
"Therefore, governors have taken the decision not to allow the school premises to be used for this programme.
"There have been questions raised about the effectiveness and longevity of the vaccine, its potential for interference with the body's natural defences against other HPV strains and the side effects it can cause."
The letter also reports that some girls who took part in a pilot study last year suffered dizziness, nausea, headaches and high temperatures.
Last year one of the governors, Monsignor John Allen, complained that pupils involved in a pilot scheme were being used as "guinea pigs". He said: "Morally it seems to be a sticking plaster response.
Parents must consider the knock-on effect of encouraging sexual promiscuity. "Instead of taking it for granted that teenagers will engage in sexual activity, we can offer a vision of a full life keeping yourself for a lifelong partnership in marriage."
Mr Browne's letter includes advice from the Catholic Education Service, which says: "There is nothing in Catholic teaching to suggest that there is anything wrong with the use of vaccination against this disease, nor does it undermine the Church's teachings in regard to human relationships and sexual activity.
"It remains important that all safe and moral steps are taken to protect people from the virus. This includes good relationships education in both home and at school, and also the opportunity to have this optional vaccination whilst a teenager."
Peter Elton, director of public health for Bury said: "We are disturbed that the school is not allowing vaccinations on their premises. We know this will reduce the number of girls who take up the vaccines and will put them at higher risk in later life of eventually contracting cervical cancer."
He claimed that the letter, a copy of which was leaked to a local newspaper, was "unbalanced". The benefits of the injections, he insisted, "far outweigh any minor side effects".
Mr Elton added: "In general, the reaction to the new vaccine has been very positive with very high take-up in the pilot scheme and we expect an even higher take-up this year."
The vaccine, called Cervarix, offers protection against the two strains of HPV that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
Each year more than 1,000 women across the UK die from the disease. The vaccination programme will cost the government £100m a year.
Although the immediate targets are girls in Year 8, a catch-up exercise for 14 to 18-year-olds is scheduled to begin next year.
Julia Frater, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "The introduction of the cervical cancer vaccine for teenage girls is an exciting step in the fight against the disease.
"Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under 35. Research suggests that the vaccine will prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
"However, it's vital to remember that the vaccine will not completely wipe out cervical cancer because it does not protect against every type of high risk HPV.
"Our message is to take up the opportunity to get vaccinated but it's equally important to go for screening when you're invited."
Mr Browne was unavailable for comment, while a spokesman for St Monica's said the headmaster, Frank McCarron, was unable to comment on any decisions made by the governors.
Passages of the letter that had been leaked to the media did not "in any way portray the full letter". Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the HPV vaccine would 'potentially save around 400 lives a year'.
He said: "As a society we need to do more to prevent disease and not just treat it. Now more than ever before we need to make the NHS a service that prevents ill health and prioritises keeping people well. This means a shift in focus from a sickness service to a wellbeing service."
"Prevention is always better than cure and this vaccine will prevent many women from catching the human papilloma virus in the first place, potentially saving around 400 hundred lives a year."
Cervical cancer survivor Sam Fishwick, from Stockport, said: "I was one of the 30 per cent this vaccine wouldn't have protected but I feel so strongly it is so important, My little girl will be having this vaccine as soon as possible.
"This stance doesn't make any sense at all - I find it ludicrous they worry about minor side effects and a day off school compared to what they might lose if they get cancer. I worry they are not putting the children's welfare first and it is really unhelpful for people to stigmatise cervical cancer which is difficult enough to deal with.
"My little girl will be having the vaccine as soon as possible." Announcing the programme Health Secretary Alan Johnson said it would 'potentially save around 400 lives a year'.
He said: "As a society we need to do more to prevent disease and not just treat it. Now more than ever before We need to make the NHS a service that prevents ill health and prioritises keeping people well. This means a shift in focus from a sickness service to a wellbeing service." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/globa ... ce=EMC-exp_24092008