A mother and daughter agreed to share their story of how the pressure to participate in the Gardasil school-based vaccination programme led to a full-scale argument between them and ongoing hostility.
The daughter, Kay * is in Year 8 at a primary school. Earlier this year, Kay, together with her friends, attended the education session run by the public health nurse at school about the ‘cervical cancer’ vaccination programme. Kay watched the DVD and listened to what the public health nurse had to say. Some months down the track Kay didn’t remember that much information from the DVD but she specifically recalled the girl coming home with the consent form for her mother, and the girl telling her mother she had to get it done. Of the presentation given by the public health nurse, Kay felt there was statistical information that wasn’t easy for her to understand; the public health nurse talked mainly about “how easily you can get it” and that it was important to “have it done.” Kay and her friend “were frightened we would get cervical cancer if we didn’t get the jab.”
Kay’s mother, Wendy * recalls Kay coming home and saying it was really important to be vaccinated and that “she had to get it done.” But Wendy wanted to delay any decision to vaccinate. She felt she still didn’t know enough about the vaccine and that in a couple of years time, when there was more data available, she would be better placed to make an informed decision. She was also concerned about the young age for vaccination, and the mixed messages around vaccinating against a sexually transmitted infection when it is illegal in this country to have sex under 16.
This disagreement led to a full-scale argument between Wendy and Kay.
Kay thought she had to “get it done” or she would get cervical cancer. She thought any of the additional information her mother raised with her regarding the vaccination programme was incorrect because she hadn’t heard it from the nurse.
Wendy filled out the Do Not Agree part of the consent form, indicating she would have Kay vaccinated at the doctor’s. But she acknowledged this was “a cop out” as she was wanting to avoid any potential confrontation with the public health nurse who might wish to challenge her decision. The consent form was returned to the school secretary.
Kay continued to pressure her mother about the decision. She falsely claimed she was the only one who wasn’t getting vaccinated to make her mother feel bad. She was under considerable pressure from her peers.
Nearer the time of the first round of vaccinations the school principal came into the classroom and made the girls who were being vaccinated, stand up in front of the class. She then made the girls who weren’t being vaccinated stand up, and each of them was asked, “why not?” Kay recalls feeling “stink” about this. It was nothing short of bullying on the part of the principal. What made it even worse was that her friends who were being vaccinated continued to ask “why she wasn’t getting it.” Kay said it made her feel as if her mother was going to let her get cervical cancer and perhaps die.
It’s not surprising there was ongoing anger and hostility between mother and daughter, given the lack of information, the misinformation, and the undue pressure that Kay was subjected to, not only from her friends but also the school principal.
It was only recently that both Kay and Wendy learned that Kay had until she was twenty years old to access the free programme. Immediately, the pressure came off, the hostility over the issue ended, and a more rational and informed discussion took place. And it was only then that Kay disclosed to her mother what the principal had done.
As phone calls to the AWHC office earlier in the year have confirmed, this story is not uncommon, and it highlights a number of very important issues:
- The risks of using a health promotion strategy that lacks balance, over-estimates the risk of developing cervical cancer, and is intended to frighten girls and young women into ill-informed compliance
- The failure to provide parents and caregivers with sufficient and balanced information to counter any misinterpretation of the information provided in the classroom setting
- The risks to family relationships when schools and public health nurses present information on vaccinations to students with the aim of gaining compliance rather than informed consent from both parents and their daughters
- The risks to students of being subjected to peer pressure
- The management within schools of the return and completing of consent forms
- The bullying by school staff.
The AWHC would like to thank both Kay and Wendy for sharing their story.
* Not their real names as their identities need to be protected.