Low HPV vaccination rates in Fraser Health region highlight danger of religious influence on BC schools

Several Christian schools have the lowest HPV vaccination rates among their Grade 9 students in the Fraser Health region, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun. The Sun obtained vaccination records for schools in the region which covers Burnaby to Hope. Just 61% of Grade 9 girls received the vaccine in 2013-2014. Six of the nine schools reporting Grade 9 HPV vaccination rates below 25% were Christian.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association said:

“These numbers are shocking from a public health perspective but also serve to highlight the dangers of allowing fundamentalist ideologies to influence our schools. The Christian schools that are failing to vaccinate their students for HPV are putting girls at risk and many are doing so with the blessing of provincial tax dollars.

"Even worse, Abbotsford School District maintains a draconian abstinence-based sex-ed policy, which withholds vital information about contraceptives from students who will eventually choose to have sex. The BC Government ought to withhold funding from independent schools that fail to vaccinate their students and to ensure students across the province receive a comprehensive, evidence-based education in human sexuality.”

Under the BC Government’s Independent Schools program, many religious schools receive public funding. For example, Abbotsford Christian School, whose HPV vaccination rates are under 10%, receives 50% of the funding per-student that a neighbouring public school receives.

The BC Humanist Association has criticized the Abbotsford School District in the past for its sex ed curriculum which emphasizes “saving sex” over safe sex. Similar programs in the USA have been shown to contain “medical inaccuracies, lack of effectiveness, and the withholding and distorting of health information” and were recently criticized on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. HPV vaccination rates in many of Abbotsford’s public schools are even lower than the region’s average.

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