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Catholic board trustees approve HPV vaccine
Motion to provide shots for sexually-transmitted virus approved with unanimous vote

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 17, 2013

The Yellowknife Catholic Schools board of trustees voted unanimously in favour Wednesday to offer a vaccine against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in its schools.

The decision comes about four years after the previous board axed a similar motion in a 5-2 vote. At that time, trustees cited a lack of information about possible side effects from the vaccine as the reason for voting against it.

Since 2009 more studies have been done proving the safety as well as the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine and no serious events have been linked to getting the shot, according to health professionals.

Board member Steven Voytilla, who brought the motion forward Wednesday, said he feels it is important to provide students with a means to safeguard against the virus, which can cause cervical cancer.

"It's not a silver bullet. It doesn't prevent all cervical cancers but it offers some protection," he said, adding he doesn't agree with the argument that by providing the vaccine the school is implicitly condoning premarital sex.

"Just because you're a good driver doesn't mean you shouldn't wear seat belts and you shouldn't drive the car without the air bags."

In making their decision, trustees were able to draw on presentations given last month by local health professionals and resident Linda Wood, who was the sole voice of dissent. Wood argued that by providing the vaccine the schools would be undermining the students' ability to choose a healthy lifestyle.

On voting day board members heard an additional presentation from HPV Canada, a publicly-funded group in favour of providing the vaccine in schools. Group member Audrey Farrier shared her own struggle with HPV, which she contracted through unwanted sex in her teen years. The infection and the treatment for it damaged her cervix and prevented her from being able to carry her pregnancy to term. Her son was born weighing one pound and today he lives with chronic health issues and disabilities.

"I can't change what's happened. It's the great sadness of my life," Farrier told the board, adding all she can do is share her story with others.

Vice-chair John Dalton was the only board member to hesitate before voting in favour of the motion. He was concerned about parental approval.

He said he didn't like the idea that public health could give students at about age 14 the vaccine if the child gave informed consent.

"Now the child has the right and you have to look at that but I think it's important that there is the dialogue with the parents," Dalton said, adding the vaccine should not be given to a student on school property without parental approval. "It should be done over at public health."

Dalton said he plans to bring a motion forward at a future board meeting to address this issue, although he isn't sure yet of the specific wording.

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