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Calgary Catholic schools finally lift ban on HPV vaccine

FILE PHOTO: Megan Burrows, a grade 8 student at Westheights Public School in Kitchener, Ontario gets the HPV shot at school Thursday, September 13, 2007.

Geoff Robins/The Globe and Mail

After years of debate and a four-year ban, Calgary's Catholic schools will soon be free to administer the HPV vaccine to students in their schools.

The decision represents an aboutface, but is also long overdue, according to a large number of health experts and advocates. Female students will soon be able to get the HPV vaccine to help prevent their future chances of developing cervical cancer. Parental consent will be required.

The HPV vaccine has long been seen as controversial because critics, including leaders of the Catholic church, argued that it would promote promiscuity.

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The vaccine works by preventing infection with the strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause the majority of cervical cancers. Infection with the HPV virus occurs during sexual activity and most people will become infected with it at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The development of the vaccine is a major breakthrough that health experts say will help prevent occurrences and deaths related to cervical cancer. But it's also important for those who have been vaccinated to receive regular Pap tests because the vaccine cannot prevent 30 per cent of cervical cancers, the CDC says.

The link between the HPV vaccine and promiscuity may seem like a strange one. But some believe that vaccinating girls against an infection that occurs from sexual activity will somehow promote sexual activity.

For many, it's an argument that makes no sense. And recent research has actually proven that the HPV vaccines don't encourage young girls to be sexually active.

But the decision of Calgary's Catholic school board to open the door to the HPV vaccine could represent a change in thinking. Perhaps critics of the vaccine are finally realizing that it doesn't cause immorality or sexual risk-taking. It merely helps protect a girl from developing cervical cancer in the future.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More


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