Timaru primary school Grantlea Downs has opted not to allow a vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to be administered on its grounds.
South Canterbury District Health Board (SCDHB) chief executive Nigel Trainor raised the school’s stance towards the nationwide immunisation programme during a health board meeting on Friday.
Trainor said the school’s Board of Trustees had made the decision not to allow the students to be vaccinated against HPV on site.
“Unfortunately they never contacted us to have any sort of conversation about that so I’m not sure what happened or what inspired it.”
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Board of Trustees chairman Nigel Chapman confirmed the decision had been made by the board. However he could not confirm any other details until he had checked the minutes of the meeting when the decision was made.
If contracted the virus could lead to increased risk of a number of cancers, including cervical cancer.
Confirming the identity of the school on Monday, a health board spokesperson said the decision to withdrawn from the DHB-led immunisation programme meant about 40 per cent of the school’s year 8 pupils would be immunised.
Initially, Grantlea Downs had allowed the DHB public health nurse to educate its year 8 classes about the vaccine, the spokesperson said.
The nurse had also been able to give out consent forms, allowing the students to be immunised, with “no issue”.
“The school is willing to allow the students to attend vaccinations at another venue or of course families can attend Primary Care for immunisations,” the spokesperson said.
Some students had been bussed to a clinic at the public health nurse office on Woollcombe St for immunisation.
Other schools across South Canterbury had generally been “receptive and willing” to education about HPV, as well as hosting immunisations.
South Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Daniel Williams said the school-based programme was the “most convenient way for the year 8 children to get protected against HPV”.
“The vaccine is safe and gives long-lasting protection. The HPV vaccine is most effective if given at age nine to 12.
“At that age, only two doses are needed. Older children and younger adults need three doses.
“With vaccination now free for everyone aged nine to 26 years, it’s a great opportunity to make sure our young people are protected against these cancers,” Williams said.
Trainor told the board meeting the issue was one the DHB had “really got to get ahead of”.
He said the DHB’s HPV vaccine uptake was “quite poor when you compare it to our neighbours”.
“We are struggling here, we are going to have to really think hard about how we get our messages out on HPV,” he said.
He told the meeting that there had been a “negative” around the vaccine after someone believed they’d suffered a reaction to it.
“Whether that is true or not, that has created quite a lot of social media on the subject.”
The DHB programme provided a “golden opportunity to vaccinate our young people for cancer”, he said.
DHB director of patient nursing and midwifery Lisa Blackler said people who had been part of the decision not to vaccinate “are standing in front of the school with information leaflets and fliers, and various brochures, to misinform, I guess”.
“It’s very hard to control because it’s not on the school’s grounds.”
Blackler said some children at the school had consented to being vaccinated.
The consent had then been reversed.
“We have contacted the principal and we are trying to work with the principal”, she said.