Our girls 'don't need' HPV vaccine

By Jennifer Lipman, September 1, 2011

A new study has revealed that Jewish parents are rejecting the chance to vaccinate their daughters against a sexually transmitted virus because they do not consider it a necessary precaution.

The research, carried out by Dr Daniel Gordon at University College London, looked at the Jewish community's attitudes towards the vaccine for HPV (human papilloma virus), a sexually transmitted infection which can cause cervical cancer.

Schools began offering it to pupils aged 12 and 13 three years ago, with the intention of reducing the risk before girls became sexually active.

Despite media controversy and the opportunity for parents to opt out, more than three-quarters of girls of that age in England have been given the vaccine this school year.

"It is the first vaccine to be offered in the UK which may be seen to conflict with cultural or religious beliefs," said Dr Gordon. However, until now researchers have not looked at the Jewish community's attitude towards it.

Dr Gordon interviewed 20 mothers, all of whom had at least one child at a Jewish school and were frequent synagogue-goers. Half had opted out of the vaccination.

Mothers who rejected the HPV vaccine did so both because it was a new vaccine, and because they did not believe their daughters would be susceptible to a sexually transmitted disease in the first place.

"Even mothers who had accepted the vaccine had questioned the relevance for their daughter," Dr Gordon found.

Those who declined it, did so because they "perceived their daughter's risk of HPV to be low" as the girls were not yet sexually active and were only "likely to have one or few sexual partners".

"Although mothers thought HPV vaccination was a good idea in general, many did not perceive it as necessary for their daughter," he wrote.

"[They cited] Jewish religious laws governing family purity and abstinence until marriage as reasons for their daughter's low susceptibility."

Mothers also objected to the age at which the vaccine was offered, and said they would have appreciated being offered information "tailored" to the Jewish community.

One woman felt that her daughter's school should have sent letters dealing with parents' misgivings, or provided guidance from an Orthodox GP.

"There was disappointment in the information they had received and a feeling that the concerns and questions of the Jewish community had not been addressed," said Dr Gordon, who called for "community-specific information" to be offered by schools and local councils.

The research, carried out by Dr Gordon at University College London (under the supervision of Dr Laura Marlow and Dr Jo Waller), has been published in Vaccine Journal.

Last updated: 1:05pm, September 1 2011