As we sat around picnic tables waiting for the girls’ volleyball team to come for lunch after their tournament game that Saturday morning, the mothers talked about the bad influences their daughters faced in today’s culture. One mother commented in a blasé tone of voice that she had spent the afternoon before taking her 15 year old daughter to the doctor for the first of her HPV shots. None of the other mothers seemed to find that action extraordinary and the conversation continued to flow on, with the mothers’ complaints about the time it takes today to be a good mother.
Indeed, few people question the advisability of girls getting the HPV (genital human papillomavirus) vaccine. We are told that genital HPV is a common virus that is passed on through genital contact, most often during sex, and that most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it. Further, the virus, according to conventional wisdom, is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s.
We know that there are about 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women with most of the types causing no symptoms and going away on their own. But, some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women. Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 4,000 women die annually from this disease in the U.S. Some HPV viruses can also cause genital warts that while not life-threatening, can cause emotional stress and their treatment can be very uncomfortable. About 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. (or 1 million people) have visible genital warts at any point in time.
The vaccine, Gardasil®, is given in three shots over six-months. The vaccine is routinely recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series. Gardasil is often recommended for girls as young as nine-years-of-age. Never mind that the vaccine is only effective for about five years and never mind that there is limited data on the drug’s effect on pre-teen and girls in the early teenage years; it is marketed as “widely tested” and with promises that the vaccine will last “a long time.” The promoters recommend the vaccine be given “before a girl becomes sexually active” because that is when it is most “safe and effective.” Some school districts are even engaging in mass immunization programs and many parents are viewing the HPV shot as just another of the childhood immunizations necessary to protect their kids from contagious diseases.
It is time for a reality check.