BURLINGTON, Ontario, Oct. 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Halton Catholic District School Board is moving to grant public health officials access to children in schools to administer the controversial HPV vaccine rather than the current practice of allowing parents to choose for their children to access the vaccine in free clinics.
“People are talking about voting on this as early as Tuesday,” Anthony Danko, a school board trustee for Oakville, told LifeSiteNews. “Not only is there no notice given, the decision would be made right after a holiday weekend when presumably nobody’s keeping up on current events.”
The school board allowed Halton’s health department to use their schools to give grade 8 girls the HPV vaccine in the fall of 2007. But they reversed course in June 2008 after parents expressed concerns over the severe health risks of the vaccine and over concerns that they were compromising the Church’s stance against premarital sex. The HPV virus is communicated through sexual contact.
The board is reportedly the only one left in Ontario not to offer the vaccine.
At the school board’s meeting on Oct. 1st, however, the board’s new director of education, Paula Dawson, raised the issue again. She invited Dr. Bob Nosal, the Halton region’s medical officer, who urged the trustees to allow the vaccine in the schools, arguing that the board’s decision has left the region with the worst HPV immunization rate in the province. (See Youtube video of the meeting here, beginning at 45:00.)
At the meeting, trustee John Morrison announced he would file a motion at the Oct. 15th board meeting to re-open debate on the vaccine. But according to Danko, rather than a vote on merely reopening debate, the board is discussing having a vote on the policy itself on Tuesday.
“Normally our board invites feedback from the public and we have a delegation policy that encourages people to weigh in on issues,” he said, “but in order to do that they need to give seven days notice that they’re going to present.”
“Regardless of what you think of the HPV issue, everyone could agree that the proper process needs to be followed to have an issue debated properly so that trustees can make an informed decision,” he continued. “The credibility of the board is at stake.”
Teresa Pierre, Ph.D., president of Parents as First Educators, a group of Catholic parents in Ontario, called the board’s effort to “ram through” this decision an “outrageous abuse” and has launched a petition urging the trustees to keep their existing policy. So far the group has garnered nearly 700 signatures. (Sign PAFE’s petition here.)
“It is an outrageous abuse of the procedures to ram through this motion without allowing concerned taxpayers and parents a chance to speak against the motion to overturn the ban on the distribution of the HPV vaccine in Halton's Catholic schools,” she told LifeSiteNews.
“According to their own by-laws, and what was promised in the last board meeting, there is supposed to be a notice of motion to allow time for the public to participate,” she said. “To have this motion be voted on without a notice of motion and on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend is an especially clever way of making sure taxpayers are not engaged or fully involved in this issue.”
“We are asking parents and ratepayers to contact Board leaders to make sure they understand that people are fed up with this kind of anti-democratic behaviour from their elected representatives,” she added.
Is the vaccine ‘safe and effective’?
One of the chief reasons for the controversy around the vaccine has been the high number of adverse reactions reported after taking it.
In August, the British Medical Journal published an article with strong evidence showing that a 16 year-old Australian girl was made infertile due to the vaccine.
But it appears that was by no means an isolated case. In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received reports of 28 deaths associated with the HPV vaccine. Among the 6,723 adverse reactions reported that year, 142 were deemed life threatening and 1,061 were considered serious.
Concerns over side effects have been so grave in other parts of the world that countries are starting to pull their support for the vaccine. Earlier this year, Japan announced they would stop recommending it while they conduct further investigation after reports of 2,000 adverse events, including 106 “serious cases of pains or body convulsions, pains in joints, or difficulty in walking.”
In his presentation and discussion with trustees, Dr. Nosal emphasized repeatedly “in no uncertain terms” that the vaccine is safe. He said they knew the vaccine was safe five years ago when Halton Catholic adopted its current policy, but after five more years of studies, “clearly the vaccine right now has shown to be safe and effective.”
“It's been extensively monitored over ten years in international studies,” he added, and “there are no long term or significant effects.” He said the only effect is some pain or redness at the injection site, “and that really is about it.”
Asked by the vice-chair, Arlene Iantomasi, how long the vaccine is effective for, he said, “Right now it's thought to be life-long protection.”
Pressed by a trustee later about the possibility of side effects, he said, “It's not going to happen with this vaccine, because 175 million doses have been given.”
LifeSiteNews attempted to interview Dr. Nosal but was unsuccessful as of press time.
The vaccine’s effectiveness has been strongly questioned in recent years by one of the lead researchers involved in getting the drug approved. Dr. Diane Harper, professor and chairman of the department of Family and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville, now suggests that the drug actually may do more harm than good.
She says that according to the data available, the drug’s effectiveness only lasts five years, reducing its benefits while exposing young girls to all of the potentially dangerous side effects. She has also suggested that the vaccine could be riskier than cervical cancer itself, which is curable if detected early through Pap smears. Additionally, she says, women are given a false sense of security, so are less likely to be diligent about screening.
“If we vaccinate 11 year olds and the protection doesn't last… we've put them at harm from side effects, small but real, for no benefit,” Dr. Harper told CBS News. “The benefit to public health is nothing, there is no reduction in cervical cancers, they are just postponed, unless the protection lasts for at least 15 years, and over 70% of all sexually active females of all ages are vaccinated.”
Administered only with parental consent?
Dr. Nosal also stressed “in no uncertain terms” that the health department would only administer the vaccine after obtaining a signed consent form from parents. “No nurse in Halton will give an HPV vaccine without parental consent, not in your schools,” he said. He says the department sends parents a “detailed package” about the vaccine beforehand.
But, at the meeting, Danko questioned Nosal about how he could guarantee the vaccine would be administered only with parental consent. The trustee pointed out that during the board’s previous debate over the vaccine, the health department representative told them Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act indicates children can get the vaccine without parental involvement.
“There is no way for a parent to sign a binding agreement that says they don't consent to this being sold to [their kids],” said Danko.
Danko’s concern was echoed by Oakville lawyer Geoff Cauchi, a ratepayer in the school board. He said the province’s Health Care Consent Act, which came into force in 1996, was designed to give health practitioners the power to decide whether a child is competent to seek care without parental supervision, and does not specify a minimum age at which the child could be deemed competent.
If the practitioner determines the child has the capacity to decide for herself, then the practitioner would be “breaking the law” by informing the parents, he told LifeSiteNews.
“They have the sole discretion to decide,” said Cauchi. “If they decide that they believe the child is capable of making their own decisions, then they are treated just like an adult and they have a right to privacy.”
“This is the big elephant in the room that nobody’s dealt with,” he continued. “I’ve been talking about this off and on since the Act was proclaimed in force. It offers no protection to parents and it’s probably not going to be rectified until such a time as somebody challenges it as being unconstitutional.”
Halton’s medical officer is “giving assurances, but I think that they’re worthless,” he added.
Nosal told Danko that his department’s lawyer would give the board a legal opinion on the Act and HCDSB board chair Diane Rabenda said the board would get their own as well.
Moral theologian supports current policy
Dr. Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told LifeSiteNews that the decision about the vaccine should be left to parents and not pushed through the schools.
“If parents want their children to receive the HPV vaccine, they can take it upon themselves to do so,” she said. “School boards do not NEED to be involved and there is no urgent need, such as a public health threat like a flu epidemic, for health authorities to use school premises.”
“I think in these days of informed consent public health authorities should be more aware that parents should be treated like adults who can and should make their own decisions, and not simply be expected to fill in yet another form from a school board or health authority, almost as a matter of routine,” she continued. “This is a complex moral issue, and many parents are hesitating, not just Catholics. That shows it is not nearly as straightforward as public health officials would like it to be.”
Call for action
Pierre urged Halton parents and ratepayers to contact the board chair and director of education and call on them not to push the vote through without appropriate consultation and feedback. She said the most effective action is a phone call to the chair, Diane Rabenda.
“Parents and taxpayers are not being well served by the Chair and the Director of Education if they continue to conspire to make sure this motion is on Tuesday's agenda for voting,” she said.
“Catholic parents expect the Halton Catholic District School Board to hold its ground,” she continued. “Catholic schools are committed to teaching students to choose abstinence. … As Bishop Fred Henry said about this issue in 2012, 'We do not want to send any mixed signals about pre-marital sexual activity.'”
“Those who are proposing to have it in the board are using utilitarian ways of thinking in which medical outcomes are viewed as more significant than the rightness of moral acts,” she added. “Catholic Trustees must guard and protect the right for Catholic schools to be places that practice what they preach.”
Sign the PAFE petition here.
Diane Rabenda, Chair of the Board
905-632-6314 ext. 7185
Paula Dawson, Director of Education
905-632-6314 ext. 115