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HPV Vaccines: Should Children Have the Final Say?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has a ticking time bomb on his desk: he must sign a recently passed bill (AB 499) by October 9th in order for it to become law. His signature, however, would set an explosive precedent: the bill allows children (even 12 year olds) to give valid consent--without their parent’s knowledge or permission--to receive vaccines that aim to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.


The groups pushing the Governor to sign the bill include the usual ‘reproductive rights’ suspects: the ACLU, NARAL-Pro-Choice California, and Planned Parenthood, to name a few. Their justification for cutting parents out of the decision-making process is the usual tripe: when it comes to sex, parents cannot be trusted to act in their children’s best interests.


The bill meets an urgent need, says its sponsor, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (a lesbian, community organizer, and long-time advocate for LGBT special privileges). She argues that letting individual parents decide whether their child should receive, for example, the HPV vaccine amounts to "playing Russian roulette with kids' lives." Why? Because random clinic workers, school nurses, or pharmaceutical representatives surely stand in a better position than the child’s parents to judge whether-- for that particular child--the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the risks.


Excuse me?


Parents groups are up in arms, and all Americans should be. STD vaccines (like Gardasil, which aims to prevent the HPV virus) are preventive measures---not acute medical emergencies. Sexually transmitted diseases, while potentially serious, are not public health emergencies on the same order as potential outbreaks of typhoid, diphtheria, and other easily communicable diseases. Those air or water-borne diseases spread like wildfire through a population. STD outbreaks, on the other-hand, are driven by sexual behavior and individual choice. They do not require massive emergency vaccination campaigns to keep the public safe—and certainly not campaigns that bypass parents and target 12 year olds.


How to Save Your Family: Be Your Child’s Medical Advocate—and Authority.


Parents have a right—and a responsibility—to safeguard their child’s health. That includes making decisions about whether and when to vaccinate the child against sexually transmitted diseases. And a decision NOT to vaccinate against an STD, particularly for a young child, is a wise decision.


The Gardasil vaccine, for example, protects against HPV infection, including several strains of the HPV virus that cause cervical cancer. But the vaccine itself carries enough risks to give a sensible parent pause: according to the CDC, eight percent of reported adverse reactions to the vaccine were serious—including at least 32 deaths.


And what happens if a child receives Gardasil, without the parents’ knowledge, and suffers an adverse reaction? The parent would be responding blindly to a true medical emergency, unaware of the real source of a child’s reaction---a situation that may jeopardize not only the child’s health, but also the child’s life.


And for what?

To drive a bigger wedge between parents and children when it comes to sexual behavior and sexual health.


Who benefits? The clinics, drug companies, and sex-pushers: they need the vaccine to shore up the story they peddle to teens: that the only sexual decision that matters is whether “you’re ready.” That sex means pleasure, period. (To see Planned Parenthood’s explicit advice to your kids, click here.) Any risks can be prevented with a shot, pill, or a little latex. And, oh yes, an abortion, if something “unexpected” occurs.


Parents need to be vocal advocates, not only for their child’s personal health, but also for the principle that parents have the right to make personal health decisions in the best interests of their minor children, without government interference.


Let you child know that you are—and will be—their very best advocate when it comes to health—and healthy sexuality. Give them accurate information in the context of your family’s beliefs, experience, and worldview. Let them know you love them and that no one---not the government, Planned Parenthood, or public health agencies—should ever stand between you.

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