By JANELLE DESOUZA Wednesday, January 30 2013
THE Ministry of Health yesterday announced the suspension of the administering of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination to girls in primary and secondary schools, through the ministry’s school-based immunisation programme.
This came on the heels of opposition from the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) and revelations that other denominational boards were not properly informed of the vaccination drive and were not willing to allow vaccination to take place on their school compounds.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday told Newsday he has suspended the programme based on the “unfortunate uproar” caused by the CEBM.
In a release on Monday, the CEBM stated that RC churches were against the use of Gardasil, the vaccine being used to prevent girls from developing cervical cancer via the HPV.
Khan said letters of invitation were sent directly to stakeholders, inviting them to consultations on the HPV vaccine in schools. He said they had “educated everybody” about the vaccine and the Ministry was not forcing anyone’s hand, as vaccination is “completely voluntary.”
“What else can I do? We have done everything the correct way. We held consultations, sensitised stakeholders and got approval from the Ministry of Education. Now we have to have this tedious approach to this thing,” he said.
“Now it’s simple. For those who want to protect their daughters from cervical cancer, they will now have to go to the health centres where they could get it free of charge.”
A Ministry release yesterday stated individuals wishing to have their daughters receive the vaccine could call or visit their nearest community health centre to make an appointment for the vaccination. Schools wishing to make arrangements for immunisation of their students on the school compound, can contact the Ministry’s Expanded Programme of Immunisation Department at 627-9085.
Told about the suspension of the programme, CEBM Chief Executive Officer Dr Roland Baptiste said, “The Ministry has made a decision and that’s up to them, but we have made our decision. We were simply telling our principals we would not agree to them doing the programme in our schools.”
However, Baptiste noted it was a “free country” and individuals could make their own decisions.
Baptiste said the CEBM’s objections were based on literature regarding the drug Gardasil. He said there was too much controversy surrounding this vaccine and felt it seemed to be still in the experimental stage.
“If there is still doubt, we should be cautious and should not be experimenting on our children. We don’t want to be consigning the next generation to a battery of health problems,” he said.In addition to health concerns, Baptiste claimed the Board was not consulted but Ministry officials simply went into RC schools to start the vaccination drive.
Had they been consulted, Baptiste said, the Board would have made their concerns known.
He said he could not remember seeing an invitation from the Health Ministry for any consultation.
There were also moral considerations. Baptiste said the vaccine may be sending a message to young children that promiscuity is something they could experiment with now that they are vaccinated.
Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Satnarayan Maharaj yesterday said his organisation received no invitation to attend any consultation. He said they would have debarred any health worker who tried to vaccinate students.
“They are not coming into our school and injecting people just like that. They have to consult and get our consent and we have to seek the consent of parents too,” Maharaj said.
“On the surface, it looks like a good thing but I don’t know about the vaccine or the international position on it. Once we know what the vaccine is about and we find it to be a good one, then no problem. But we don’t know,” he added.
TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) first vice president Davanand Sinanan yesterday said he was not sure if the union was invited to a consultation but added that, “TTUTA has no problem with the Ministry of Health, after consulting the relevant authorities and research, going into schools with the vaccine in the best interest of the health of the nation.
“They have done it in the past with Yellow Fever, Measles and other viruses.”
He said it was the Ministry’s responsibility to protect the public interest on national health issues based on a certain level of medical competence.
“Therefore,” he added, “as I am no medical expert, I am in no position to dispute their decision to deal with a national health issue in a particular way, neither is anyone else in the education system.”
Sinanan said the Ministry would still be fulfilling its mandate of safeguarding the health of the nation when the vaccines were made available at health centres.
Lynsley Doodhai, president of the National Primary Schools Principals Association (NPSPA), however described the suspension as “unfortunate”, saying he hoped the Ministry reconsiders its latest position. He noted parents would have to take their children out of school to go to health centres for the same vaccination.
He was certain that many parents are too busy to take their children for the vaccination, while others, especially in rural areas, may not see the vaccine as being important. Therefore, it is the children who would be deprived of the vaccine.
While noting he was unaware of any consultation his group had with the Ministry, Doodhai said he didn’t see a problem with the vaccination once parents give consent. In his opinion, the vaccine has no religious implication.