the Gauntlet

Promoting promiscuity?

HPV vaccine scandal illuminates a failure of education

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Whenever new vaccines are introduced to the public, health professionals and parents alike have a right to question them. What exactly will these vaccines cure or prevent? Are they reliable and is there any chance that there will be adverse side effects? Careful consideration of all possible outcomes are studied before the vaccines are used on the public and in most cases, if all is well and the vaccine passes initial testing, it is incorporated into most health systems with little friction.

However, when a vaccine combating several human papillomavirus strains-- viruses that are spread mostly through sexual activities-- was introduced, it became a battleground centred on the morality of the issue. In addition to the common questions asked, another important issue came up: will this vaccine promote children to have more sex?

In short, the answer is no. This is because a lack of comprehensive education leads to little or no information on the risks involved.

Recently, the Catholic Separate School District in Calgary voted against inoculating grade five girls with the vaccine in their schools, citing that it just didn't fit with the morality of the Catholic Church's beliefs. They believe that by inoculating the girls they then condone premarital sex.

Although there is a visible link to the issue of sex and the HPV vaccine, commonly known as Gardasil, the CSSD's approach has significant shortcomings. Given the fact that HPV is spread through sexual contact and the CSSD lacks the education necessary to provide accurate information on what sex really is, the girls frequenting CSSD schools are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Abstinence-until-marriage education lacks applicable sex education including issues such as the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Children in such systems are more likely to have sex sooner or substitute other sexual activities for it, such as oral and anal sex, in order to get around the virginity issue. More oral and anal sex with less education also leads to a higher chance of contracting STIs without even knowing about it, thus further increasing the risk of sterility and other complications while unknowingly promoting the spread of disease.

An article in the Journal of American Medical Associations found that one third of women aged 14-34 are positive with at least one strain of HPV DNA and that 3.4 per cent of women aged 14-59 had the types of HPV that are associated with cervical cancers. This number seems small but means 68,000 women in Canada could potentially be infected with HPV strains causing cervical cancer.

Although it is commendable that the CSSD is giving out information to parents about the vaccines, their other actions are speaking louder than words. The CSSD is not doing a favour to its female students. If anything, the CSSD is potentially increasing health problems for their students in the future by continuing their poor education and creating myths about the vaccine. Pre-marital sex happens and will continue to happen-- we might as well try in some way to ensure that every person is protected further by realistically examining how our systems are in fact promoting ignorant decisions about sex and how this will negatively affect future generations and our health care system.