Nowhere are there parents, social conservatives or pandering politicians clamoring to stop the administration of a single tetanus vaccine because they are afraid it will encourage their children to play in junkyards.
Why, then, are there so many groups condemning the Human Papillomavirus vaccine as the latest attempt of American liberals to force preteens into unsafe and premature sex? The notion that HPV is preventing some quantity of unsafe sex that pregnancy and AIDS aren’t contains an even smaller amount of intellect than thinking a muscular disease, not the threat of a deep puncture wound, is the incentive preventing children from playing in junkyards.
I don’t mean to confuse my support of the vaccine with Texas Governor J. Richard Perry’s issuance of an executive order requiring that all sixth graders be vaccinated by the start of middle school next fall. Financially, it makes good policy for the government to be proactive here – for $450 a person, we could save millions of dollars in expensive Medicare and Medicaid costs for un- and under-insured cancer patients. But, there is a fine line separating proactive local government and a dangerous policy of state-mandated medical care.
Gardasil is new, and despite its recent FDA approval, the long term side effects may not yet be fully realized. Also, it only works for five years, and currently there is no booster shot – although undoubtedly that project, currently in the works at the major pharmaceutical company Merck, will be available soon.
Lastly, there is no risk to the other people around a person infected with HPV unless they are engaging in sexual intercourse – no reason for the state to be overly concerned about a contagious virus like there is with the measles or meningitis.
I think that the government should always offer assistance, but never force the father-knows-best routine upon us. Regardless of my extreme dislike of mandatory government health programs – the anti-smoking and trans-fat laws, for example – I hope that there is a gradual phase-in of the vaccine to a point where it is strongly recommended for teenagers.
While no one can ever be as qualified as a child’s parents to decide the best course of medical treatment for her, it is important to keep in mind the Center for Disease Control’s estimate that 6.2 percent of girls age 14 to 19 have already contracted HPV.
Each year, 10,000 women and girls of all ages die due to complications arising from the Human Papillomavirus, namely cervical cancer. Another 3.1 million women, whom the CDC estimates are infected with the disease, experience painful genital warts. That must not be an irrelevant, secondary concern due to the slightest possibility that the vaccine may encourage young people to have sex.
The possible implication of this vaccine – making one form of cancer entirely preventable – is amazing, completely eradicating 99 percent of deaths from cervical cancer. Just ask anyone who has lost a family member to cancer – any breakthrough is a major one.
At the very least, everyone of age to receive the vaccine, men and women nine through 26 years old, should investigate it further. They should decide for themselves if now is the right time.
It’s important to remember that by this time next year, 10,000 women in this country will be dying or have already passed away from cervical cancer caused by HPV. Hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country will rush to the Internet to find information about treatment. While researching their friend’s, partner’s, sister’s, daughter’s or mother’s condition, a sudden realization as the first Yahoo or Google results appear will sweep over them. Three easy vaccination shots could have prevented the ultimate tragedy.
I feel very strongly that this is a vaccination that should be added to the list of recommended vaccines for incoming freshmen. No one should ever die from a preventable disease, especially one that has an easily accessible vaccine.
Last Wednesday, Dean of Students Jody Asbury sent out an e-mail with ways to get the vaccine on campus, more information as to why it’s important and how it can save your life or the life of someone you love.
The vaccine is available at UHS for about $150 a dose and is covered at least partly by most major insurance companies. Appointments for vaccination can be made through University Health Services.
Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.