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U-turn on HPV vaccine
The Roman Catholic Church has made a U-turn on its decision not to allow the inoculation of female students in their schools with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. The vaccination programme is piloted by the Ministry of Health but the decision by the Catholic Board several weeks ago caused the ministry to rethink its plans and offer the service instead at all public health facilities in T&T.
The RC Church, however, sent out a release yesterday, saying it had agreed to allow the Gardasil vaccine to be administered in its schools but under specific conditions. The conditions require the ministry to provide full disclosure about the vaccine to enable parents to make an informed decision. The information requested by the church includes the virus strains not covered by the vaccine, the period for which the vaccine is effective, situations in which the vaccine should not be used and the full range of possible side effects.
The church also called for a “systematic programme” to monitor students after they receive the vaccine. The church’s initial concerns stemmed from the fact that Gardasil’s United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) approval had been fast-tracked over a two-year period and there had been reports of negative side effects, including death. The release said an agreement had been reached with the ministry to make certain amendments to the brochure.
These amendments would include inserting information that will encourage cancer screening and pap smears in later life and locations where this can be obtained and the full range of side effects.
“The archdiocese shares the concern of the ministry over the high incidence of cervical cancer in T&T and supports the goal of reducing the incidence of this disease and preventing deaths that result from cervical cancer,” said the release.
It encouraged students to reserve sexual activity to within marriage and get regular pap smears. “Parents are urged to learn the medical facts concerning this vaccine and to consider the spiritual, emotional, moral, and physical health of their daughters in making their decision about it,” it said. And Health Minister Fuad Khan says he is extremely happy that the RC Church has changed its mind on allowing the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine in its schools.
In January, the Ministry of Health launched the HPV vaccine initiative in schools nationwide. The initiative, which offered voluntary vaccines for the HPV, targeted around 20,000 girls. A few days after the initiative was introduced, however, the ministry suspended the administering of the vaccine in schools after opposition from the RC Church. “We had several meetings with them and we are extremely happy to know they have changed their minds,” said Khan.
Members of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain including Vicar General Msgr Robert Llanos, chairman of the Catholic Education Board of Management Roland Baptiste and CEO Sharon Mangroo met with representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization. Khan said while the administering of vaccines had been switched from schools to community health centres, the ministry had continued to give lectures to students.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to get back to our original plan,” said Khan. “I expect we will begin soon.”
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