Let's Not Talk About Sex

A newly approved vaccine could prevent a widespread precancerous STD. But will anyone use it?

On the one hand, mandating the vaccine would maintain its place in the Vaccines for Children program, which provides free vaccines for Medicaid-eligible American Indian and Alaskan Native children. This would ensure the vaccine's availability to many of the nation's poorest girls, who could reap the greatest health benefits from it. Vaccines for the Vaccines for Children program are purchased by the CDC in bulk, but even bulk priced, the cost of immunizing all eligible girls would be huge; some estimate about $2 billion.

On the other hand, conservative groups are balking at the suggestion that the vaccine be required. "Focus on the Family supports widespread availability of HPV vaccines but opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry to public school," reads the Christian nonprofit's HPV vaccine position statement. "The decision of whether to vaccinate a minor against this or other sexually transmitted infections should remain with the child's parent or guardian."

Which is all well and good, but such positions would seem to fly in the face of common sense. Nearly every state allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. And there is less concern about the hepatitis B vaccine that is required in Minnesota for kindergarteners, even though hepatitis B can also be spread by sexual contact.

Marilyn Joseph at the U of M medical school: "Why not be protected against something that's potentially life threatening?"
David Fick
Marilyn Joseph at the U of M medical school: "Why not be protected against something that's potentially life threatening?"

Just one partner who has been infected with one of those cancer-causing strains of HPV or many other sexually transmitted diseases can forever alter a woman's life. While cervical cancer is less of an issue in developed nations, it is the nature of drug design for the wealthy to have first dibs while developing nations will eventually feel the trickle-down effect. As with so many matters like this, people like Boynton's Joseph see the HPV vaccine as a matter of public health—not a moral quandary—for everyone.

"I'm one who buys life insurance and travel insurance, so to me this [vaccine] is a kind of insurance," says Joseph. "I never had a girl, but if my boys had been able to get it, I would have given it to them."

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