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Bishop Fred Henry issues statement on HPV Calgary Catholic school consultation

Calgary's Catholic school board has announced it will be consulting with parents on the possibility of offering human papilloma vaccinations in school.

The initiative comes after four years of refusals by the board's spiritual leader, Bishop Fred Henry, to offer a program that is utilized by most other Catholic school boards.

Henry declined requests for an interview Thursday but issued the following statement:

"I continue to think that the September 10, 2008 Motion passed by the Trustees of Calgary Roman Catholic School District No.1 was and is the prudent and right course of action to take. This decision was not made in haste, but only after much prayer, consultation, study and debate.

However, I would like to review and briefly comment on a number of related items:

1. We believe that  parents must decide whether or not their child is to be vaccinated against the HPV virus. We encourage parents to be fully informed about the medical facts of the Gardasil vaccine and all the related issues.

2. As many as 30 to 40 percent of eligible Canadian girls are not being immunized against the sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer. We are left to ponder a wide range of  possible explanations.

3. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente studied 1,398 girls in the state of Georgia who had been given the vaccine and 905 who had not, over a three-year period. The group that had been vaccinated did not show increased rates of seeking contraceptive advice, having a pregnancy test or getting pregnant, or being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. This is

good news. However, the nature and results of the study may need to be

further examined.

People have been inclined already to read into these results. Our claim has never been, despite the characterization of our opinion, "being vaccinated against cervical cancer makes girls more promiscuous."

What we have repeatedly said is:  that we should be dealing with causes, not just consequences; our youth have to be educated about the nature of human sexuality and Catholic moral teaching; informed about risky behaviour to their spiritual, emotional, moral and physical health, and sexually transmitted diseases; and that we do not want to send any mixed signals about pre-marital sexual activity.

4. The HPV infection is common - 70% of adults will have HPV at some point in their lives. The infection often clears on its own within two years. For some,  however, the infection can become chronic, leading to cervical changes, and possibly cancer. Further research is needed.

Maurie Markman, at the Cancer Treatment Centre of America in Philadelphia, on September 24, 2012 published in PubMed the following Abstract: "It will likely be more than 20 years before there is unequivocal evidence available that HPV vaccination decreases the incidence of invasive cervical cancer. However, existing data strongly suggests that as many as 440,00 cervical cancer cases and 220,000 deaths due to this malignancy will b prevented with the establishment of an effective worldwide HPV immunization program."

Consequently, although I support the current policy and practice, I am also on record as holding that to vaccinate is not an inherently evil action but rather a partial prophylaxis. However, given all of the above, and the lack of a consistent policy and practice by Catholic school districts in our province, concerns, differences of opinion, divisions and threats of legal action, I am also supporting the recent motion of the Trustees to seek the counsel of our Parent School Councils as to whether or not they continue to support the course of action outlined in the 2008 motion or would they advise us to offer the vaccine in our Catholic schools."

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