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HPV vaccination in Canada: A failed "rescue mission"

A talk by Geneviève Rail PhD
Professor Emerita, Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute

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About this talk

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination campaigns have stirred heated debates on safety, effectiveness, cost and ethics, but are nevertheless present in all Canadian provinces. In this presentation, I focus on the results of a qualitative study looking at HPV vaccine discourses and their impact on Canadian girls, parents, nurses, and physicians. The study includes conversations in French or English with participants (N=146) from 4 provinces and diverse sociocultural locations. The results first speak to vaccination campaigns as morally laden, gendered, heteronormative and factually misleading. Second, interview analyses attest to the lack of basic knowledge about the HPV vaccine or its purported benefits and harms, even among parents and health professionals. Results show how parents (mostly mothers) are forced to construct themselves as responsible citizens at the cost of the powerlessness, uncertainty, anxiety and fear they feel alongside the perceived imperative to have their daughter vaccinated.

Health professionals generally appropriate pharma-informed HPV vaccine discourses, and use fear of HPV infection as a strategy to manufacture consent for vaccination among girls and parents. Individuals most resistant to the HPV vaccine, its related discourses, and the adverse event reporting systems were nurses and Euro-Canadian parents whose daughters experienced death or grave health problems following HPV vaccination.

In the end, I critique the rhetoric and praxis of “rescue missions” put in place to supposedly “save” girls. I reflect on the use of HPV vaccination within larger corporate schemes to expand markets in the name of cancer prevention.

I conclude by asking whether the health of the public is advanced when HPV vaccine practices needlessly produce “at-risk bodies” and when cancer prevention is instrumentalised in the pharmaceuticalisation of public health.

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