CALGARY, November 29, 2012 ( – The Calgary Catholic School District has reversed course on the HPV vaccine, agreeing to offer the controversial drug in their schools despite the opposition of Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.

The school board had refused to offer the vaccine since 2007, when Alberta’s provincial government began funding schools to administer the shot to girls in grades 5 and 9.

But after a public campaign by local health professionals in recent months, the trustees voted Wednesday to begin offering it to girls in grade 5, with parental consent.


The school board had conducted a public consultation with their 104 schools in October, and the majority favoured changing the policy.

“It’s safe to say that we had thoughts all over the board, both pros and cons, but that parents wanted this vaccine in our schools. So, we responded to that,” board chair Mary Martin told CTV.

Bishop Henry told on Thursday that he “respect[s] the decision of the trustees,” but had hoped for a “different outcome from the consultation.”

“The only winner in all of this is Merck,” the company that produces the drug, he said, which “stands to make even more money based on exaggerated claims, incomplete and limited scientific data, and our fear of cancer.”

“We are all losers if we believe that pills, lotions, condoms and vaccines are the solution to the spread of STDs. I hope that some day we wake up!” he added.

The bishop had argued that administering the vaccine would undermine the schools’ effort to teach children about abstinence and chastity in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and also undermines the effort to prevent HPV by masking its true causes, namely irresponsible sexual behavior.

But in an October statement he supported the public consultation, noting his belief that using the HPV vaccine is not “inherently evil” but instead a “partial prophylaxis.”

John Paul Meenan, a professor of theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, supported the bishop’s opposition to the drug, noting that there is a real risk of spiritual scandal in administering it to young girls.

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“The young women/girls who receive this vaccine are given the message that should they choose to engage in sexual activity, they will be protected from some forms of HPV,” Meenan said. “Is being offered such a choice in a Catholic environment proper?”

The professor described offering the vaccine as a “near-inducement to sin,” noting that it gives girls “a false sense of security that sex before marriage is somehow ‘safer’.”

“One might argue that the vaccine has made one marginally ‘safer’ from one particular effect, but how does that stand against the untold other detrimental effects of premarital sexual behaviour?” he asked.

“I agree with the Bishop: The best method is to instruct the children in Catholic moral teaching, abstinence and chastity, in all of its beauty and grandeur,” he said.

The Calgary Catholic School District had been Canada’s only school board in a major city that did not offer the vaccine. It remains banned by Catholic school boards in eight other districts of Alberta as well as Yellowknife, and Halton in Ontario.