Catholics in a standoff with Health ministry over cancer jab


Health CS Sicily Kariuki. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Catholic Church is locked in a standoff with the Ministry of Health over the planned rollout of a free cervical cancer vaccine for schoolgirls that is set to begin next month.

Doctors who profess the Catholic faith have objected to the vaccination which is to be administered on all schoolgirls aged 10 years and above. The girls are to receive two doses of the vaccine.

Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA) argues that girls in this age group, who are classified as a high-risk population, are far too young to contract the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is the primary cause of 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

“HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and disease and therefore children who are chaste and faithful adults are not at risk,” argues KCDA.

The doctors argue that over 90 percent of all HPV infections resolve spontaneously and are destroyed by the body’s natural immunity, hence there is no need for mass vaccination.

In its rollout plan, the Ministry of Health argued that HPV is the primary cause of 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases and that vaccination of 10-year-old girls would drastically reduce prevalence of the disease.

“At least two-thirds of cervical cancer cases could be averted if 90 percent coverage is reached with HPV vaccines hence Kenya plans to introduce the vaccine into routine immunisation,” a letter from Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache reads in part.

The letter from Ms Mochache to her counterpart at the State Department of Early Learning and Basic Education states that girls aged 10 will receive two doses of cervical cancer vaccine on their upper arm starting July.

The PS says that the vaccination programme will be provided as part of the routine immunisation schedule in health facilities and through school outreach programmes.

“To reduce the burden due to cervical cancer in the country, the Ministry of Health plans to introduce the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into routine immunisation schedule 2019 targeting girls aged 10 years of age,” reads Ms Mochache’s letter to Dr Belio Kipsang.

Doctors who called on faith-based organisations to stop the vaccination said that the only proven safe, affordable and effective means of controlling cervical cancer is through chastity.

The cost of the vaccine is estimated at about Sh475 million.

Cancer of the cervix is the second most common kind in Kenya after breast cancer, according to statistics released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer last year.