The end of cervical cancer or the end of innocence?
That’s the controversy surrounding the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended for all 11-and 12-year-old girls.
HPV, which is sexually transmitted, usually causes no symptoms and most people are unaware they are infected.
However, nearly half of all sexually active Americans are infected and each year the virus causes almost 10,000 cases of cervical cancer and kills nearly 4,000 women in the United States and 233,000 worldwide.
Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine, making it the first vaccine specifically designed to prevent cancer. The HPV vaccine is almost 100 percent effective against the strains that cause most cervical cancers.
However, in order to be fully effective, the vaccine is recommended to be administered before females become sexually active. Because of this, the CDC recommended that all 11- and 12-year-old girls be given the vaccine.
During this past legislative session, SB 155 was introduced that would have required the HPV vaccine for all girls entering the sixth grade in the state of Georgia.
Although the bill did not pass, it did generate much debate between those who felt the HPV vaccine should be part of Georgia’s standard vaccination program and those who felt the state has no right to be making health care decisions for their children.
Many groups were livid that the state would even consider such a course of action. They feared that vaccinating girls this young against a sexually transmitted disease would encourage girls to have sex and that sexual abstinence should instead be encouraged.
Others feared that the vaccination could lead to a misconception among young girls and boys that all sexually transmitted diseases would be prevented. Most, however argued that the decision on whether or not to receive the vaccine should be left up to parents, the child and the doctor.
Supporters of the vaccine pointed out that it is a life-saving vaccine, not a sex vaccine. They considered it to be good public policy to require a cancer prevention vaccine that prevents the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the county.
Besides, they argued the state of Georgia allows for medical exemptions from vaccines as well as exemptions for religious reasons. Although mandated, the vaccine could be refused on these grounds.
Even Gov. Sonny Perdue included $4.3 million in his initial budget proposal for underinsured children to receive the vaccine, although it was later removed.
Many other states are considering adding the HPV vaccine to their vaccination schedule, including Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has issued an executive order requiring the vaccine before girls will be admitted to the sixth grade.
During debate in the Texas legislature, one representative asked the rhetorical question that if a vaccine to prevent lung cancer were discovered, would we not require it because we felt it would encourage smoking.
The end of cervical cancer or the end of innocence? While there may not be a clear cut answer to this question a few things remain clear — abstinence is better than even the best vaccine and parents should be the primary people to discuss their sexual values with their children.
However, as a matter of public policy, should we deny our young girls the HPV vaccine and subject them to the risk of cervical cancer just to prove a point?
Rep. Buddy Carter represents portions of Chatham and Effingham counties.