It’s been almost three years (!) since I’ve written a Guest Post for SEB, but a recent news story here in the UK prompted me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write something.
Over here in the UK, some religious schools have opted out of offering free HPV vaccines to their students. HPV – the Human Papillomavirus – is linked to as many as 70% of cases of cervical cancer and is therefore offered, free of charge, to girls aged 12 and 13. Around 1000 women die from cervical cancer each year, so this vaccine has the potential to save hundreds of lives. And normally, it is up to individual parents’ to opt their children out, but these schools have made the decision to opt out of the vaccine for all of their students.
The HPV vaccine is controversial – not because of any side effects, but because HPV is a sexually-transmitted infection. Consequently, some parents opt their children out as they do not want to encourage sexual promiscuity, or feel that because their religion forbids sexual intercourse before marriage that this is incompatible with their faith.
The key problem is that a number of these schools have not informed local doctors that they have chosen to opt out. Consequently, should a child’s parent actually want their child to have the vaccine, it is not subsequently being offered by their doctor and so some children may miss out.
What is laughable are some of the reasons given by the schools for opting out, such as:
“pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage”
Because we know how likely that is. Regular SEB readers will know that abstinence-only sex education is not effective and actually results in a higher rate of unprotected sex – and consequently puts both men and women at risk of contracting the virus. Although the vaccination programme only targets girls, men can carry the virus and it while it frequently results in no adverse symptoms, carriers are at a heightened risk of other cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some handy information if you want to read more.
Should schools be allowed to put the health of their students at risk in this way, in the course of religious observance? And if so, should such schools be forced to make the effort to provide parents with the information they need to seek alternative sources of the vaccine?