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Schools deny girls cervical cancer jab on religious grounds

Girls in some English schools are being denied a cervical cancer vaccination on religious grounds.  The vaccine, which is potentially life-saving, is routinely offered to girls aged 12 to 13.  However, an investigation has found that some schools in England are opting out of the vaccination programme, and that most of these schools also failed to inform local GPs of their decision.  One of the schools denying girls the vaccine claimed that their pupils ‘follow Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage’.  The British Humanist Association (BHA) condemns the schools’ refusal to offer the vaccine, and believes that schools should not be allowed to opt out of the vaccination programme on religious grounds.

The cervical cancer vaccine protects against strains 16 and 18 of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which cause 70% of cervical cancer cases.  1,000 women in the UK die from cervical cancer every year.  The investigation into HPV vaccination in schools, which was carried out by GP magazine, found that 24 schools in 83 of England’s 152 Primary Care Trust (PCT) areas were opting out of the vaccination programme, and that many of them were doing so on religious grounds.  The majority of schools which chose to opt out did not tell local GPs about their decision.  Of the 15 PCTs where schools are denying the vaccination, only two informed GPs of their decision, and only five said that they informed pupils or parents how to obtain the vaccine elsewhere.  The Royal College of General Practitioners says that GPs should be informed about which pupils were being denied vaccines at school, in order to help reduce cervical cancer deaths.

Some religious groups are opposed to HPV vaccination at a young age because they believe that it encourages pre-marital sex (HPV can be sexually transmitted).  The reasons given by schools which had opted out of the programme included ‘not in keeping with the school ethos’, ‘pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage’ and ‘the school does not want parents/students to feel pressured by peers or the school setting’.  There are concerns that the number of schools opting out of the vaccination programme could increase, as more academies and free schools open which are run by faith groups.

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented that ‘schools which are opting out of the HPV vaccination programme for religious reasons are effectively imposing their religious views on their pupils, in a way which places girls’ long term health at risk.  To make matters worse, most of these schools have failed to inform local GPs of their decision, and have failed to give out information on other services which offer HPV vaccinations, which will result in some girls not being offered the vaccine at all.  This is outrageous, as it could result in some of these girls dying from cervical cancer later in life.  Schools should not be allowed to opt out of the vaccination programme, and certainly not on religious grounds.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The original article in GP Magazine (registration required):

http://www.gponline.com/News/login/1141051/

Media coverage of GP Magazine’s investigation:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jul/18/cervical-cancer-vaccine-schoolgirls-religion

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9406016/Schools-opting-out-of-cervical-cancer-vaccine-campaign-due-to-religion.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2175083/Schools-denying-girls-life-saving-cervical-cancer-jab-religious-objections.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/17/cervical-cancer-jab-schoolgirls-religion-christian_n_1679227.html

The BHA’s campaign on faith schools:

https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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