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Should Young Girls Get the HPV Vaccine?
An Update of the Issues


Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against HPV (human papillomavirus), has practically become a household word in the United States since it was approved in 2006.

The HPV vaccine may be given to girls as young as 9.

TV commercials featuring young girls chanting "I'm going to be one less" are quite commonplace, and now the vaccine, which protects against the four types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts, is recommended for 11-12-year-old girls, along with those aged 13 to 26.

Though many vaccines have the potential to bring up controversy, Gardasil is a particularly hot button because it protects against a sexually transmitted disease, yet is being given to young girls -- most of whom are not yet sexually active.

Add to that the fact that the government is debating over whether to make the vaccine mandatory, and many parents feel their rights are being violated in that HPV can be prevented through abstinence. Giving children the vaccine is "like pre-inoculating your child for an immoral lifestyle," said one parent in the Boston Bay State Banner.

Indeed, in a survey of nearly 10,000 parents, only 49 percent said they intended to vaccinate their daughter if she were 9 to 12 years old. Meanwhile, 68 percent and 86 percent intended to vaccinate their 13-15-year-old and 16-18-year-old daughters, respectively.

Why the Push for Gardasil?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "studies have found the [HPV] vaccine to be almost 100% effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV types covered by the vaccine -- including precancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina, and genital warts."

Since HPV infections are extremely common -- some estimate that three-quarters of U.S. women will be exposed to HPV during their lifetime -- the premise is that Gardasil will significantly cut back on the 10,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States each year.

Some parents are refusing to get their daughters vaccinated on the moral grounds that it could encourage them to become sexually active.

According to one estimate, if the vaccine were given universally, about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases could be eliminated.

What are the Downsides?

Aside from some parents' fears that the vaccine would encourage their children to have sex, there are other concerns surrounding Gardasil.

On the forefront of many opponents' arguments is its necessity. While HPV is common, most infections occur without any symptoms and go away on their own within a few years, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Meanwhile, of the more than 100 HPV viruses (around 30 of which can be transmitted sexually), Gardasil protects against just four. So it is possible to get cervical cancer even if you've been vaccinated. And even among the "high-risk" types of HPV that Gardasil prevents, NCI says, "It is important to note, however, that the great majority of high-risk HPV infections go away on their own and do not cause cancer."

There is also a question of safety. Thousands of Gardasil-related adverse reactions have been reported to the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). Reportedly, 11 deaths and other adverse reactions, including Bells Palsy, Guillan-Barre syndrome, seizures, blood clotting, heart problems, and even miscarriages and fetal abnormalities among pregnant women, have occurred in those who received the vaccine.

Diane M. Harper, a physician and vaccine researcher, told KPC News that the vaccine is a "great big public health experiment," and pointed out that its safety and efficacy are both unknown.

For now, the choice of whether to get vaccinated with Gardasil is a voluntary one that every parent and young woman needs to make on their own.

For those who decide to forgo the vaccine, NCI states that the surest way to eliminate your risk of HPV infection is to either refrain from sexual activity or, if you are sexually active, to maintain a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

Recommended Reading

Girls Hitting Puberty at Younger & Younger Ages

Statins and Other Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs: What Are the Risks and Alternatives?


ABC News May 5, 2008

National Cancer Institute April 24, 2008

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