New feature: HPV vaccination – the debate isn’t over yet

// 13 October 2008

St Monica’s in Manchester does not want girls vaccinated against HPV on school grounds. Kit Roskelly argues that all schools have a responsibility to protect their pupils’ health

All girls aged 12 and 13 will be provided with vaccinations against the Human Papilloma Virus, the UK government decided, in October last year. Because the vaccination must be given to girls before they become sexually active to be most effective in preventing cervical cancer, parents and schools can consent to the young women in their charge receiving this jab. St Monica’s School in Greater Manchester announced recently that it was not prepared to allow the vaccinations to be given on school premises. The governors of the school, which is a Roman Catholic institution, wrote to parents raising concerns about possible side-effects of the immunisation, and informing them that they did not feel that the school was the appropriate place for it to be administered.

Schools have played a central part in vaccination programmes over many years. Immunisations against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, TB, meningitis and a number of other diseases have been provided in British schools for decades, with incalculable benefits to the health of individuals and whole communities. This sudden change of heart on the part of St Monica’s School is unexpected, to say the least.

The wider issue here is the attitude of right-wing Christians to women. This is more clearly a problem in the United States, but the effects are also felt closer to home. The proposal last year to provide this jab nationwide provoked a debate about the possibility that it would “encourage promiscuity”. Groups such as The Christian Institute argued in favour of telling young women not to have underage sex, rather than providing them with the vaccination. This attitude is irresponsible and harmful.

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