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The T&T Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA) says it had no objections to the Health Ministry's HPV vaccination programme for pre-pubescent girls 11-12. Debate has mounted over the vaccination programme which was discontinued following complaints from the Catholic Education Board of Management.
In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Davanand Sinanan, TTUTA’s first vice-president, said when vaccines are administered it is done with careful consideration by the relevant authorities and “it is done in the public health interest.” Sinanan said TTUTA has “every confidence in the technical competence of the officials at the Health Ministry.”
He said TTUTA does not have the technical competence to challenge the ministry’s decision but noted that a denominational board raised objections to the vaccine without clearly stating why. “Our teachers have not indicated to us they have any objections based on scientific and or moral and ethical grounds, and therefore, under the circumstances, we have absolutely no problem with vaccines being administered in the schools.”
The Family Planning Association (FPATT) has also expressed support of the Health Ministry's programme, describing it as “an intervention that would save many lives of our future generation of women in T&T.” FPA’s executive director Dona Da Costa Martinez said in a release that a robust education campaign should precede the vaccination programme to allay the public's fears. The FPA called for the vaccination of men as well.
“All boys and girls ten-12 should be immunised before they become sexually active,” the release said. British High Commissioner Arthur Snell and the T&T Medical Association (TTMA) also expressed support for the Health Ministry’s use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil.
Snell, in a strongly worded letter published in the T&T Guardian, said: “I am dismayed to learn that the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) strongly recommends that parents of children attending RC schools should desist from allowing their children to be vaccinated with Gardasil.” He cited the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration’s 2011 conclusion that no deaths in Australia, the United States or Europe were directly linked to the vaccine.
“This is a serious subject, and for a number of women it will be a matter of life or death,” he said. He urged public institutions to provide “statistically validated evidence” to help people make informed decisions. “Ignorance and fear kill; so does cervical cancer,” he said. “Gardasil does not.” Snell added that those who urged people not to vaccinate had “succumbed to a scientifically illiterate form of bland fundamentalism.”
TheTTMA said in a statement: “The TTMA wishes to indicate to the nation that it supports the Ministry of Health’s plan to offer HPV vaccines to 11-12 year old girls in T&T.” The association said it supported the vaccine because of the population's high cervical cancer rate. “Cervical cancer is the second commonest cancer in females in T&T and the most common in the 30-45 year age group.
“Though this vaccine is not compulsory, we are strongly encouraging parents to contact their paediatricians, general practitioners and public health doctors and nurses to access vaccination.” Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said he had been receiving a lot of positive phone calls on the programme.