Wait and see on school vaccine

Greymouth Star 12 March 2010 

The success of an anti-cancer vaccine programme, normally run through schools, was now a waiting game, West Coast medical officer of health Dr Cheryl Brunton says. Westland High School girls aged over 12 will have to go off school grounds to have the free injection for the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) after the board of trustees dropped the programme without explanation. It is the only West Coast school, and one of very few in the country, to reject the vaccine, which is promoted as guarding against cervical cancer. It has courted controversy around the country, although most schools still allowed and supported it. Dr Brunton said it was now a matter of “wait and see” as to whether or not the Hokitika decision would affect the number of girls who would opt to have the Gardasil vaccine. “The Ministry of Health, when devising the HPV vaccine programme wanted it to be school-based simply because school-based programmes are the best way to ensure that all girls get access to it on an equal footing.”  She said it was a fact that families on lower incomes, or children from Maori or Pacifica backgrounds tended to miss out on a number of immunisations that were not run through schools, but rather a GP. “Schools do not have to participate but most have chosen to do so because it is useful and it is convenient for the girls and their parents.”

However, Family First NZ yesterday welcomed the decision.National director Bob McCoskrie said ultimately the decision to vaccinate or not should be made by the parent after having received full and balanced information on its merits.“While we are naturally all supportive of any attempts to fight cancer, parental knowledge or consent is essential when it involves children — especially when the infection is not a communicable disease but a consequence of behaviour — and the jury is out on its long-term effectiveness,” Mr McCoskrie said.