Monday, May 5, 2008

HPV Vaccine

These are postcards from a magazine encouraging young women to at least look into being vaccinated against HPV, the most common STD in America and the one associated with cervical cancer.

The postcards were just a small part of a major campaign promoted by Merck, the company that developed the vaccine. The fact that the company, and not local public health departments, lead the campaign may have contributed to a backlash against the vaccine. But more than likely, people are wary because of their own attitudes about sex and children.
Several states, including Texas and Florida tried to immeadiately put into law that all girls must be vaccinated against HPV (and thus, also, cervical cancer) before entering middle school. The idea is to protect girls before they become sexually active, which can happen at anytime between middle school and college. But the laws were killed due to lack of support from the public.

This could have been predicted; some parents don't even vaccinate their kids against measles. But add the fact that HPV is an STD, and suddenly it becomes even more controversial. The recommended age for this vaccine is 9 years and no one wants to think of their 9 year old having sex. But, again, the idea is to protect the girls before they are sexually active at all. HPV is the most prevelant STD, with very subtle symtoms, so it is very likely that when a girl does become sexually active, she will quickly be exposed to this virus and not even know it until she has an abnormal pap-smear. Almost all deaths from cervical cancer are related to this virus.

But the scariest argument I have heard against the vaccine, is the idea of complacency. There are some out there, politicians, parents and gynocologists included, that believe innoculating a child against an STD will actually encourage them to engage in risky sexual behavior. There is no science to back this up, it is meerly a feeling some people get, that the existence of deadly STDs is actually a good thing because fear can control teenagers' sexual desires. This thinking is not only wrong, but false.

What I want to know is, 10 or 15 years from now, when 19 to 25 year olds find out they have contracted HPV, are they going to ask their parents why they weren't vaccinated against it?
What does this mean for a possible HIV vaccine? Would very few people even want it, not admitting that they are at risk? Is the fear of "complacency" keeping drug companies from even trying?

The postcards say Tell Someone, so, I'm telling you. What do you think about it?

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