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I’ve blogged before on the ‘good bishop’ and his edict that the HPV vaccine Gardasil not be offered to students in Catholic schools. Only about 20% of these students had parents responsible enough to get their daughters vaccinated.

Many anti-vaccine nay-sayers out there point to adverse reactions and death. The CDC last year released the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)  report. The highlites include:

  • 13.5 million doses given in the US in 2006-2007;
  • < 8,000 adverse reactions (7% of which were considered serious, about half of what most other vaccines produce);
  • 15 deaths reported, 10 of which could be further investigated (NOTE: no link was found between HPV vaccination and death in ANY of these cases);
  • 31 reported cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a neurological condition that results in temporary but often total body paralysis (10 cases confirmed);
  • In Canada, 1,300 women will contract HPV this year and perpetually live in fear of developing cervical cancer;
  • 400 women will die from cervical cancer this year.

While the antivaccination nuts will focus on the truly tragic cases of GBS, what do they say to the many, many more who would have otherwise never developed cervical cancer? I have yet to hear an answer to this. There are risks associated with any medical procedure, including vaccination. Measles (MMR) vaccination has a GBS incidence of about 0.62 per 100,000 immunized children1 , and in both the HPV and MMR vaccination the risk of serious complication is far, far lower than the incidence of the diseases they are designed to prevent.

For those hard-core antivaccinationists who think it’s all a conspiracy involving the pharmaceutical industry (each company having competing interests with every other), the CDC,  the WHO, etc., it’s time for your medication. Clearly, they are paranoid beyond reason.

But that’s not Bishop Fred Henry’s problem. According to him, making the vaccine Gardasil available (and thus leaving the decision up to the parents as it should be) would send the message that premarital sex is okay. I guess that is more important than keeping the healthy and alive.

Is there any science to support Henry? Or is he just a windbag spouting a baseless opinion?

C’mon! He’s always been a windbag, so why should he change his tune now? In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Henry made the following comments:

“It’s because we are challenging some of the political correctness of our day in which people seem to think that if you come up with a vaccine, that’s going to solve all the problems,” Bishop Henry replied.

“No matter its effectiveness, the vaccine is not a substitute for chastity.”

“We’re saying that chastity ought to be taught and emphasized,” he said, saying education should encourage delayed sexual activity.

Henry sees this as a bold stand. I see it quite the opposite – he refuses to take responsibility for the health of those in his charge, cowering behing an empty moral position.

No, Henry, we’re upset because you are being obtuse and your opinion will kill people. A news flash for you, Henry – teaching abstinence-only has no effect on teen sex incidence rates, regardless of the fantasy world you’ve constructed for yourself. But then, why would Henry let fact affect his wild guesses he passes off as informed opinion?

I came across an interesting paper2 which discussed this very issue. the CDC conducts biennial surveys in order to monitor adolescent sexual behavior. High school girls in the US are having fewer sexual encounters (despite the availability of condoms in US schools) and of those that are condom use is increasing. The reasons are complex, but a large component is living in a society where discussion about sex is more open and honest.

Thus, preventive measures do not necessarily lead to high-risk behavior. Along with the shattering of the fantasy that the availability of condoms in schools leads to promiscuous behavior, the availability of the so-called ‘morning after’ pill has not lead to more or younger sexual encounters and not even an increase in unprotected sex.

Factors that do increase the odds of increasing the chances of adolescents engaging in sex include the age of the romantic partner and representation of sex in popular media (television in particular) in the absence of open and honest dialog.  Now there’s an idea – instead of blushing and avoiding the subject, talk to the kids!

I was particularly struck by one comment in the paper by Monk and Wiley which demonstrates how silly Henry sounds in his ‘logic’:

Seat belts do not cause reckless driving, tetanus shots do not cause children to seek out rusty nails, and hepatitis B vaccination has not altered sexual practices or increased injection-drug abuse in any population.

There is nothing inherently common about ‘common sense’, and the ‘good bishop’ is a prime example of the norm. Without the science to back his position up, his utterances are mere opinion and can only be correct by purest accident. Opinion in policy unsupported by science, particularly in an area as important as health, should not be listened to. The problem is due to his opinion, women whose health, and not just their spiritual welfare, is in his charge, making him directly responsible for their deaths. I fully expect this idiocy to produce yet another class action lawsuit against the Catholic Church in Canada in a few decades.

Do the right thing this time, Bishop Henry. I’m sure you believe that you have the moral high ground, but those that have committed the most terrible acts in history have that in common with you.

References

  1. GM da Silveira, Dr, DM Salisbury and CA de Quadros, Measles vaccination and Guillain-Barré syndrome, Lancet 349(9044):14-16 (1997)
  2. BJ Monk and DJ Wiley, Will widespread human papillomavirus prophylactic vaccination change sexual practices of adolescent and young adult women in America? Obstet Gynecol 108:420-424
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