HPV Still in the Spotlight
Sep 30, 2011

In reading various immunization related news this week, I was surprised to find at least a dozen or more articles still focusing on the political aspects of the HPV vaccine.
This time, rather than focusing on Michele Bachmann’s careless disregard for the vaccine, several articles were focusing on what may have been a significant motivator for Rick Perry’s decision to try to require the HPV vaccine for young Texas girls.  Interestingly enough, the focus has turned to Perry’s own wife.  As The New York Times describes, Anita Thigpen Perry is not only her husband’s “close confidante”, but a woman “with expertise in women’s health… a nurse, country doctor’s daughter, and career-long advocate for victims of sexual assault who has been a vocal proponent of immunizations”.  I can’t say that I’m surprised. Nor am I offended.  I think it’s only natural that Governor Perry may have been influenced by his wife’s personal experiences.
However, while Perry has come under fire for his attempt to mandate the HPV vaccine years ago, California Governor Jerry Brown is currently faced with another controversial bill that would allow minors, 12 and older, to receive prevention services for STDs without parental consent.  Such services would therefore include the HPV vaccinations to protect against strains of Human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause cervical cancer.
In contemplating this measure, it’s important to note that children as young as 12 are already able to consent to diagnosis and treatment for STDs.  As one doctor explains, “What this adds is them being able to receive prevention … which is obviously a very important part of health care.”
In an interview with The Boston Herald, Dr. Gary Leiserowitz, professor and chief at the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, said

“It is unfortunate that this vaccine has become mired in deeply moral and ethical values related to sexual behavior, although I suppose that it was inevitable because of the nature of the transmission,” he said. “If you look at it strictly from the standpoint of trying to prevent diseases, it seems like it’s actually a pretty remarkable breakthrough.”

I think Patty would have to agree.  In this Shot By Shot video, you will hear her remarkable story.  She talks andidly cabout the stigma of her HPV diagnosis, the embarrassment she felt, the shock she was in when diagnosed at the age of 26, and the fears that she may never be able to have a family.  Fortunately, Patty’s battle with HPV has a happy ending and her message serves as an inspirational one.
As the state of California grapples with the decision as to whether to let adolescent children make their own decisions in regards to prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, I have just one thought.  Maybe…just maybe…by allowing young girls to make their own decisions as to whether they want to be protected from HPV, we are also encouraging them to take responsibility for their own health and not constantly rely on their parents.  Hopefully, these same girls will one day become adults who are actively involved in their own preventive health measures throughout their entire lives.
After all, if the child, teen or young adult consents to behavior which would put them at risk for HPV, than shouldn’t they be able to consent to a vaccine that will protect them from the dangers they knowingly risk?  The issue at hand is that children, at any age, may not want to admit to their parents that they are sexually active, but that doesn’t mean they are not smart enought to want to protect themselves from diseases such as HPV.   Perhaps some parents mistakenly believe that the vaccine will give their child some unspoken permission to engage in sexual activity.  Sorry, Mom and Dad, but even if your child knows that you will dissapprove of their sexual activity, ultimately the choice will be theirs. Shouldn’t we give our children the credit they deserve to discern between prevention and permission?
I’m sure that there are plenty of different opinions out there regarding these issues, so feel free to share your comments for discussion.

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