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Govt bows to pressure; suspends HPV vaccines for girls in schools

The Ministry of Health has suspended its Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programme for young girls at the primary and secondary schools following pressure from denominational school boards.

The programme has not been stopped entirely but has been shifted from schools to community health centres.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said that as part of its educational campaign, meetings were held with the various stakeholders from since September 2012 before the commencement of the HPV vaccination programme in January this year. Some of the organisations invited could not attend the sensitisation meetings, the ministry said.

The organisations invited but which could not attend were the Hindu School Board, Catholic School Board, Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women, it added.

With the approval of the Ministry of Education, the HPV vaccination programme was implemented using the Ministry of Health's school-based Expanded Programme of Immunisation at the nation's primary and secondary schools. 

"However, because of the concerns of some denominational boards, a decision has been taken to suspend the administration of the HPV vaccination through the ministry's school-based immunisation programme," the statement said yesterday.

Arrangements will be put in place for the continuation of the HPV vaccination programme through the community health centres. Parents wishing to have their daughters receive the HPV vaccine for protection against cervical cancer can call or visit their nearest community health centre to make an appointment for the vaccine, the ministry said. 

Any school wishing to make arrangements for the immunisation of their pupils against cervical cancer can contact the ministry's Expanded Programme of Immunisation Department at 627-9085 to make arrangements for the ministry's district health visitors to visit the school.

The Roman Catholic Church said on Monday it was opposed to the anti-cervical cancer vaccine in schools within its archdiocese and questioned the safety of the HPV vaccines being administered to pre-teen girls at several primary schools.

The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM), supported by Archbishop Joseph Harris, said it "strongly recommends that parents of children attending Roman Catholic schools should desist from allowing their children to be vaccinated with Gardasil, pending further advice from CEBM".

"The CEBM has not been consulted regarding the Ministry of Health's voluntary programme of vaccination against the HPV virus, which began in schools last week," the release said.

The Roman Catholic Church said its board of management cited "serious dangers" from use of the vaccine (including death) which have been associated with the drug.

But the Ministry of Health maintained yesterday the HPV vaccine is safe and effective and that the vaccination programme is not mandatory but a voluntary programme. 

Over 60 million HPV vaccines have been introduced in 40 countries, the ministry said.

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