Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Recently I saw a story on the news about a new vaccine for the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which is transmitted sexually and can lead to cervical cancer. This virus is extremely prevalent among sexually active adults, so the fact that a vaccine has been developed is great news. There are undoubtedly conservative types out there who are against it (since apparently any kind of medical breakthrough related to female reproductive health must be some kind of threat to home, family, and the sanctity of human life), but somehow the FDA managed to fight off the forces of the neocons long enough to approve it, so that's good, right?

Only the news story I saw was all about how a lot of parents are resisting the recommendation that girls should receive the vaccine sometime between the ages of 9 and 12. Because, you know, that's too young. And there was the obligatory shot of a pre-pubescent girl running around a soccer field and looking cherubic while her mom talked about how she wasn't going to follow the guidelines, basically because the whole idea made her feel kind of icky.

I have a few thoughts on this:

1) Why should my daughter be vaccinated now, when she's so young and isn't having sex yet? Duh. The vaccine can't protect her from potential infection unless she gets it before she has sex. And yeah, I know no one likes to look at their pre-teenaged daughter and imagine that her becoming sexually active is anything but a distant possibility in the far, far future. I've got an 11-year-old daughter myself, and I shudder at the thought. Still, let's be realistic here: even the most organized parent in the world doesn't have the date their child is going lose his or her virginity marked on the calendar. If you want your child to wait, talk to them about the reasons they should do so, but for God's sake, don't deprive them of something that could keep them safer and healthier if they don't follow your advice.

2) I can't get my daughter vaccinated against HPV because, at 9/10/11/12, I feel she's still too young for me to talk to her about HPV. This one really bugs me. I suppose you're going to have a long, in-depth discussion about lockjaw with her before you take her in for her tetanus booster? Now, I'm not saying there aren't maybe a few girls out there who'll have lots of questions about why they have to get this shot, but I feel fairly confident that most of them won't question things any farther than this:

Parent: You're going to have to get a shot at the doctor's.

Daughter: A shot? Oh, man. (whining) Why?

Parent: To protect you from getting cancer.

Daughter: Oh.

Some of them might be savvy enough to ask what kind of cancer, but I'm guessing a vague "You know -- down there" will be enough of an answer to satisfy all but the very most scientifically-minded girls. Most pre-adolescent girls do not want to engage in discussions about "down there" anymore than their parents do.

I'm not saying that parents shouldn't discuss the reason for the shot with their daughters -- I'm just going with the idea that you give kids as much information as they can handle and that they ask for, and therefore, the argument that girls whose parents feel they are too young to learn about sexually transmitted diseases shouldn't still be protected against them just isn't a good one.

3) My daughter is a good girl and won't be having sex till she's married, so she doesn't need to get this shot. To me this ranks right up there with the logic that kids don't need sex education because it will just give them ideas, and if you just don't tell them anything, they won't have sex. I realize withholding information and not having your kid vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease are not the same thing, but I can't help thinking that the parent who doesn't want their daughter to get this vaccination at 10 is the same parent who doesn't want her to learn about condoms and STDs later on in junior high and high school. And last I heard, the whole "preaching abstinance as sex education" wasn't keeping lots and lots of kids out there from becoming sexually active, only keeping information from them that could keep them safer and healthier when they do.

Getting shots is an unpleasant fact of childhood -- no question about that. But the fact that the reason for this particular immunization just happens to make some parents look ahead to the future and feel a little queasy doesn't excuse those parents from fulfilling their responsibility to make sure their child is protected. No one ever said this parenting thing was easy.

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