Statement from The Association of Catholic Priests (Acp) Responding to Comments made on the HPV Vaccine
Statement from The Association of Catholic Priests (Acp)
Responding to Comments made on the HPV Vaccine
Sunday 1st October 2017
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) asks Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan to withdraw his comments on the safety of the HPV vaccine protecting women from cervical cancer.
While his comments could be considered idiosyncratic, they are ill-informed and dangerous. Parents who may be convinced that he enjoys some competence in this area could follow his advice and unwittingly put their children at risk. Sadly, his comments also bring the Irish Catholic Church into further disrepute suggesting a nonchalance about women’s health and an obsession with sexuality.
The ACP further asks the Irish bishops to disassociate themselves from Bishop Cullinan’s comments and to support the medical and scientific evidence that makes the vaccine a vital protection against cervical cancer.
I do not agree that this is a wise step.
Even if I believe that the bishops remarks are “ill-informed and dangerous”, it is better to respect his right to express his views. The better way to counter views with which we disagree is by reasoned facts and reasoning, not by attempting to silence the speaker. We do not wish to emulate the attempts to silence Fr James Martin, SJ, as reported on the ACP website.
Apart from any disagreement a person may have with the bishop, we should also ask what there may be, if anything, to be learned from what he said.
While it seems that there are good reasons for use of the vaccine, what the bishop says may be useful in reminding us of the limitations of any medication, including the vaccine. The vaccination is not a magic bullet. This is not an argument for not availing of the vaccine, but it is important that its use be accompanied by full information, even when it is agreed that it does provide a large measure of protection.
As a Gardasil information leaflet says:
“As with any vaccine, Gardasil may not fully protect 100% of those who get the vaccine. Gardasil will not protect against every type of Human Papillomavirus. Therefore appropriate precautions against sexually transmitted disease should continue to be used. Gardasil will not protect against other diseases that are not caused by Human Papillomavirus.
Vaccination is not a substitute for routine cervical screening.”
Nor does vaccine help protect against other kinds of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). The Irish Independent reported on 1 October 2016:
“Ireland has recorded 6,975 cases of STIs so far this year. That represents an increase of 847, or 13.8pc, over 2015.”
Nor has the vaccine any protection against pregnancy. Even using contraceptives, a 2015 study carried out for Marie Stopes International UK by the Open University, “Young women’s experiences of unintended pregnancy and abortion”, states:
“The majority of all abortions follow contraceptive failures. More than half of the women (57%) who had an abortion reported using contraception at the time they became pregnant.”
Another factor raised by bishop Cullinan is that of “risk compensation.” An example of this is given on the Aviva UK website, discussing the question: If vehicles are now safer than ever why do we still witness such a high number of accidents? It says:
“Let’s take American football and rugby as examples. While die-hard fans will probably tell you they’re completely different – these two sports share several, similar characteristics. They’re both extremely physical sports which involve bone-crunching ‘downs’ or ‘tackles’ and flying ‘touchdowns’ or ‘tries’. Essentially, they both involve significant potential for physical harm. Yet a crucial difference is the fact that in American football, players wear a considerable amount of protective gear, while rugby players only a mouth guard. Taking this into account, when asked, people would probably say that rugby is the more dangerous of the two.
However studies have shown that, as humans, the level of risk we take is proportionate to how safe we feel in that specific moment. Consequently, as a direct result of wearing protective gear, American football players actually suffer a higher number and more severe injuries than rugby players5. This is due to the fact that, not only do they have the means to be able to deal more damage to opposing players when tackling, but more importantly, they’re more likely to involve themselves in heavy, high speed collisions due to feeling more protected. This is known as risk compensation.”
An example closer to that of the HPV vaccine is given in “Risk Compensation in PrEP: An Old Debate Emerges Yet Again” by Jill Blumenthal, MD and Richard Haubrich, MD, on the website of the US National Institutes of Health. PrEP, “pre-exposure prophylaxis”, is medication taken by a person who is not HIV positive to help prevent acquiring the infection. In relation to antiretroviral therapy (ART), the study explains:
“Introduction of an intervention that reduces the perceived risk of the behavior or activity may cause a person to increase risky behavior—this is called ‘risk compensation’ so that the discrepancy between the level of risk he or she takes and the perceived risk increases. While taking ART, individuals perceive that they are protected from transmitting or acquiring HIV. Risk compensation may occur when prevention technologies are used to prevent HIV acquisition.” They ask whether this may be relevant also with PrEP.
This may seem complicated, but in view of the fact that those being vaccinated against HPV are young, it seems important that these factors be communicated very clearly to them, lest they have unrealistic expectations of the vaccine.
I hope the vaccine will be of great benefit. But, while recognising the great benefit medical science can bring, we must not canonise it as infallible. It is a human endeavour. A report in The Irish Times on 8 September 2017 says:
“An estimated 1,000 unnecessary deaths are caused every year in Ireland by medical error, while up to 160,000 hospitals users are injured because of human error, a conference [in Sligo] on medical negligence heard on Friday.”
As readers will know, I have no medical qualifications. I continue to benefit from medicine, but I also have enough personal experience of the limitations of its practice to be ready to ask questions. If you wish to discuss the above points, please do not do so on the basis that I am not a medical professional, any more than bishop Cullinan should be dismissed because he is a bishop. Rather, deal with the content of the points presented above, as to what aspects may be valid, and in what they may be in error. In that way perhaps both you and I can further our understanding.
To whom it concerns,
I wish to raise my concerns as a parent of a girl who received the HPV vaccine in October ’15. We believe that suspected adverse reactions to this were responsible for her health issues which arose after vaccination.
My main concern is with the following line in ye’re statement:
“asks the Irish bishops to disassociate themselves from Bishop Cullinan’s comments and to support the medical and scientific evidence that makes the vaccine a vital protection against cervical cancer.”
The HSE are giving out information to parents and do not include the PIL from the manufacturer. But as you will see from the following there are differences in the HSE information to that of the manufacturer:
HSE information: “The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects girls from developing cervical cancer when they are adults. This leaflet contains factual information to answer your questions. Please read it and then fill in the enclosed consent form.”
Manufacturers PIL: “Vaccination with Gardasil is intended to protect against diseases caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) types 6, 11, 16, and 18.”
From this alone, it is very obvious that the message to parents has been distorted by the HSE in that there is a big difference in that the vaccine will protect girls from developing cervical cancer to intended to protect.
Finally, my position is clear as all I ask is that parents have the full information so that they can make that necessary informed consent. The PIL should be included in the information pack for parents and not stored on a link on the HSE website as it contains too much important information for them.
Since Bishop Phonsie has withdrawn his comments on the HPV vaccine and apologised for poor judgment, could the ACP withdraw its/their comments on Bishop Phonsie’s idiosyncrasy, poorly informed and dangerous comments, ignorance etc etc? But could Pádraig@2 let his comments stand as yet another example of the sort of balanced and rational contribution followers of this forum have come to expect of him?
(Correction: The ACP statement did not use the word ‘ignorance’ in relation to the bishop’s statement. Ed.)
Any reason for the request, Eddie?
Is it because you believe a bishop is or ought to be above criticism?
The ACP showed leadership where and when it was required.
It is this type of critique from the boomer generation that has my intuition on overload. We are hyper-sensitive about how vaccination in the first world could have a disastrous effect on the population at the same time we passively participate in a structural violence social experiment that eradicates the tens-of-thousands on a daily basis.
Balanced and rational contributions have paved the way for this structural violence the whole way through. It is certainly something we have come to expect. I think we refer to it as collateral damage in the Catholic world.