EDMONTON - A group that has been urging Catholic school boards to lift bans against a vaccine that protects girls from a virus that causes deadly cervical cancer is claiming victory.
HPV Canada says after almost two years of lobbying, the last of 12 public boards has agreed to allow girls to have in-school access to the vaccine with parental permission.
Juliet Guichon, an HPV Canada spokeswoman, says the last hold-out was the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School District in Leduc, Alta.
Guichon says this means that the vaccine is now available in every publicly funded school district in Canada.
The vaccine protects against human papillomaviruses, which cause cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, anal and penile cancers and genital warts.
Guichon said the organization of citizens, parents, physicians and scientists achieved its goal by talking directly with officials at the hold-out school boards in Alberta, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.
"Our argument was consistently the health and well-being of children — that children were entitled to have easy access to a health program to which their parents had consented," she said.
Guichon said HPV Canada had to counter arguments that the vaccine would promote promiscuity or would undermine the teaching of abstinence.
She said no one could find any scientific studies or evidence that suggested that was true.
In the end HPV Canada said their most compelling argument was that the decision on whether a child should get the shots should be made by parents, not school boards.
Guichon said they also had to make it clear to school boards that leaving it to families to seek the vaccine outside of school would be unfair to people on low incomes. Although the vaccine has always been free, having to go to public health clinics means making appointments and arranging transportation — things not always easy for people with little money.
"Now poor kids will have as easy access as rich kids to this vaccine because it will be available in schools," said Guichon, who is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary's medical school.
Alberta was one of the last provinces to approve the HPV vaccine for girls. The move was opposed by some 10 Catholic school boards in the province on moral grounds.
In November 2012, the Calgary Catholic School Board reconsidered its opposition and voted to allow school-based HPV vaccinations for girls.
The Alberta government is now planning to include boys in free school vaccinations to protect them from the virus starting this fall, following the lead of Prince Edward Island.
Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical health officer, has said research has shown almost all head and neck cancers in men under 40 are HPV-related.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has been urging other provinces to include boys in HPV vaccine programs.
Guichon said HPV Canada will now look at lobbying private schools to allow students to have access to HPV vaccination.
Related on HuffPost:
An Abnormal Pap Test Means You Have High-Risk HPV
Pap tests are the commonly accepted screening to prevent cervical cancer. A doctor scrapes a cell culture from a woman's cervix and then examines the cells for signs of abnormality. But just because a few of those cells appear abnormal, requiring further screening, doesn't necessarily mean that you've got a cancer-causing strain of HPV -- that's only one potential cause. "The difference could be due to local irritation, a non-HPV infection, a low-risk HPV type, or even a mistake in the preparation of the cell sample," writes the American Sexual Health Association.
Condom Use Prevents HPV
HPV is passed via skin contact, rather than bodily fluid. For that reason, condoms can <em>lower</em> the risk of the disease, but they are not a sufficiently preventive measure, as they are for viruses like HIV and bacteria like gonorrhea.
Oral Sex Is Safe From Cancer Risk
While the HPV-cancer connection most often relates to cervical health, a 2011 <em>Journal of Clinical Oncology</em> study found what doctors have long observed: There has been a surge in HPV-associated oral cancers. In fact, between 1988 and 2004, <a href="http://nyp.org/enews/oral-sex-hpv.html">HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers rose 225 percent</a>. Oral sex is the primary culprit, making cancer screening of the mouth and esophagus another important test while visiting the doctor.
HPV Vaccine Means I Don't Have To Worry About Cervical Cancer
The HPV vaccine protects against four strains of the virus that are most often associated with cancer and genital warts, but that doesn't mean it prevents cancer entirely. One concern within the medical community is that the vaccination will <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104818/">provide a false sense of security</a> and prevent innoculated men and women from receiving regular cancer screening. "Clearer information is needed concerning the incomplete protection offered by the vaccine, and that cervical screening will still be required," wrote a group of British public health researchers in the <em>Journal of Medical Screening</em>.
HPV Is A Serious, Life-Long Condition
About 90 percent of HPV infections <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt05-hpv.pdf">are resolved by the body's immune system</a>.
Genital Warts Can Be Pre-Cancerous
Some strains of HPV (<a href="http://www.ashastd.org/std-sti/hpv/myths-and-misconceptions.html">"low risk" types 6, 11, 42, 43 and 44</a>) cause benign growths known as genital warts and other strains (types 16, 18, 31 and 45) cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or an area called the oropharynx, which includes the back of the throat, the base of the tongue and the tonsils. But that doesn't mean that one leads to the other -- genital warts, <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm">which affect about one percent of the sexually active U.S. adult population</a> -- do not lead to cancer.
The HPV Vaccine Is For Girls
The first HPV-preventive vaccine on the market, Gardasil, was approved by the FDA for use in girls in 2006 and <a href="http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm187003.htm">in boys three years later</a>. What's more, there are <em>two</em> FDA-approved vaccines for girls and women: Gardasil and Cervarix; while only Gardasil is available to boys and men. Still, HPV vaccination is the responsibility of all. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend the vaccine for boys for two primary reasons. First, inoculated boys will not be vectors for the disease, which can contribute to herd immunity and prevent dangerous infection in women. But more, the incidence of HPV-associated cancers that affect men is also growing, including anal and penile cancer and cancers of the mouth and throat.