Govt quits school-based HPV vaccination

US pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc., known for its trade name MSD, has recently suffered a setback in the Philippines, after the Health Department quietly abandoned a school-based free vaccination program against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus.

In April and May this year, Health Secretary Janette Garin actively announced an HPV vaccination program, with an initial target of having 300,000 female Grade 4 students in the 20 poorest provinces vaccinated to protect them from HPV virus.  Another 300,000 students were supposed to be covered in other provinces.

The school-based HPV vaccination is an initiative spearheaded by the Health Department, MSD and the Education Department.  Quietly, the Health and Education Departments had abandoned the program, apparently after several sectors, including the Catholic Church, opposed the initiative for allegedly promoting promiscuity.  Just like that, the department ended a multi-million-peso contract with MSD over the controversial school-based HPV vaccination campaign in a country where 12 Filipino women reportedly die due to cervical cancer each day.

Instead of teaming up with the Education Department, Garin said the agency tapped the Interior and Local Government Department to support the community-based immunization program against HPV, where females aged 9 to 10 years (in contrast to the word students) can receive vaccines.

The department said instead of receiving the vaccines at schools, the young females could now get them at health centers in poorest provinces.  “The immunization will be given to students with parental/guardian consent,” Garin said.

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