A Timaru primary school’s decision to prevent a vaccine against the Human Papillomas Virus (HPV) from being given to pupils on its grounds has been labelled “disappointing” by the Minister of Health.
Grantlea Downs School does not allow the vaccine to be administered at the school, with parents instead being advised to take their child to a GP if they wanted them immunised.
The school’s board chairman said people had not been distributing anti-vaccination information outside of the school, despite claims the South Canterbury District Health Board (SCDHB) had been contacted by parents concerned about the alleged activity.
Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman said the school’s decision was “pretty disappointing, especially as HPV-related cancers cause more than 50 deaths in New Zealand each year, and most of these are preventable”.
In a statement school board of trustees chairman Nigel Chapman said the decision had been made for students to be vaccinated against HPV “by a healthcare professional in a medical setting rather than on school grounds”.
Chapman said the decision was made “in the interests of parental choice and student safety”.
“We felt the best person to answer parent questions about the vaccine was their own healthcare professional, particularly since some parents didn’t think they had enough information through the school from the DHB.
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“We also thought any adverse reactions would be better dealt with in a medical environment.”
Chapman said he was “surprised” by “some of the misinformation that’s been communicated about this, particularly that people against the vaccine were outside the school handing out flyers”.
SCDHB director of patient nursing and midwifery Lisa Blackler told Friday’s board meeting that people had been “standing in front of the school with information leaflets and fliers, and various brochures, to misinform I guess”.
On Tuesday Blackler said the information had come from a meeting with the service manager.
“Misinformation was provided to mothers picking up their children outside the school grounds. We’re aware of those families reaching out to primary care for further advice, who have consequently contacted the public health team.”
Several calls to further clarify the point with Chapman on Tuesday afternoon went unanswered.
In his statement, Chapman also did not answer questions regarding whether the school had been influenced by those opposed to vaccinations.
He also did not answer questions about when the board made the decision.
However, Chapman did say the school hadn’t received any complaints from parents as a result of its stance.
One parent spoken to at the school on Tuesday morning, Likuan Schicker, said she had allowed her son to be vaccinated, and there had been no doubt about her decision.
A parent who did not want to be named said she would be “a little bit worried” by the school’s decision, while another parent, who also didn’t want to be named said the “three generations” of his family had been to the school and had been vaccinated.
“It seems really stupid, it seems a bit odd to me … they (the school) have been doing a lot of odd things lately.”
Three parents, Amy McCully, Jaime Sullivan and Daniel Carson all said they weren’t concerned as they had or would get their children vaccinated at a GPs surgery.
Two parents, Carmyne Prattley and a woman who wanted to remain anonymous, both backed the school’s stance.
“I read so much about it, even though it’s only a small risk, there’s no way I’d get my kids immunised. It’s really good news, it makes people really look at it more”, Prattley said.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary, sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said schools were “free to decide for themselves if they want vaccinations on their premises”.
“What is important is that all children and their parents have access to vaccinations, and are provided the information they need to make informed decisions.”
University of Otago School of Medicine associate professor department of pathology Marilyn Hibma said more than 80 million women worldwide had been given the vaccine.
“It’s proven to be an extremely safe vaccine … and it’s extremely effective, it’s pretty much close to 100 per cent effective.”
Hibma said the vaccine was made up of benign proteins that formed the outside of the virus, which naturally assembled as a virus like particle in the human body.
“It looks to our body like the virus itself, but it’s not the virus because it doesn’t contain the viral DNA, it doesn’t even contain all the components of the natural virus particle.
“All you are being injected with is a protein and an adjuvant, a substance to help the body respond to the protein, otherwise its so inert the body wouldn’t bother responding to it.”
The infection the particle mimicked prompted the body to produce antibodies, which protected the person if they were later infected with the virus.
Hibma said there was a “huge amount of data on adverse affects”, something which was “always very closely monitored as people don’t want to administer vaccines that are not safe”.
Studies on adverse reactions to the vaccine had shown that any affects were “no different to what you’d expect if you hadn’t immunised those women”.