PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — A Catholic bishop in British Columbia says a vaccine that protects girls against a sexually transmitted infection isn’t inherently wrong, but abstinence is the only healthy choice.

Bishop Stephen Jensen of the Diocese of Prince George also said in a September letter to parents of Grade 6 and Grade 9 girls attending Catholic schools that a legal option known as mature-minor consent won’t be an option for students in the human papillomavirus vaccination program. 

Mature-minor consent is defined on the BC Centre for Disease Control’s website as the authority given to children under the age of 19 to allow, refuse or revoke their consent to be immunized. The centre said that authority takes precedence over parental authority.

“You need to discern the merits of having your child vaccinated or not,” Jensen told parents in the letter posted online.

“While the vaccination program is not inherently wrong, parents need to make an informed decision and communicate it in a way that can serve to strengthen their child in the virtue of chastity and reinforce her appreciation of abstinence as the only truly healthy choice.”

He said the church and the parish will support parental rights.

The diocese did not respond to email and phone requests for an interview by publication.

In a posting on its website, the diocese provides a type of mission statement that explains the principles upon which its eight Catholic elementary schools operate.

“Children hear, learn, share and experience Catholic faith and values with and from teachers and staff committed to modeling the words and vision of Christ,” it said.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, three quarters of sexually active women will get it during their lives and it can become cancerous over time, according to the provincial government website ImmunizeBC.

Northern Health spokesman Jonathon Dyck said in an email that the authority will work with local schools to ensure people make informed choices about vaccinations.

“We want to ensure that the vaccine is offered before people become sexually active as it is a preventative measure, and studies have shown that it does not affect a person’s decision about being abstinent,” he said.

“It is also an important protection as the person may marry someone who has contracted and carries HPV.”

Dyck said the infection is highly contagious and can be spread even without sexual intercourse through skin-to-skin contact.

“The HPV vaccine is safe and up to 99 per cent effective at preventing HPV strains responsible for most HPV related cancers, and genital warts,” said Dyck.

Jensen said vaccination teams will visit Catholic schools three times in the coming year and will offer the vaccine on two of those visits. 

The diocese makes no mention in the letter of boys receiving the vaccine.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake announced in July that boys and men up to the age of 26 would be eligible for free HPV vaccines in September.

The vaccines are also available at local health units.

— by Keven Drews


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