HPV Vaccine - Mandatory or Not?

HPV Vaccine - Mandatory or Not?

By now, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in this country who hasn't heard about the recent fight over a new HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.

HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus which can cause cervical cancer. Every year, 3,700 women die from cervical cancer, many whom were unaware that they even had a virus at all. Recently, a vaccine has been developed to protect young women from this virus and to ultimately provide protection to the next generation of females. Not much is known to the public about this vaccine. Or, at least there is a lack of news about the topic.

Merck has been lobbying for all states to mandate this vaccination for young women nationwide. Naturally, this has created quite a controversy:

Advocates find it necessary to ensure young women don't contract the virus and to decrease their chances of developing cervical cancer in this manner

Opponents believe the vaccine as a mandatory establishment in young women's medical care would support sexuality, and they therefore denounce its potentially immoral use.

Don't nearly all controversial debates stem from a moral argument: Birth control, abortion, the death penalty, etc.? What else is new?

Let's take a general view of medicine. Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) boosters are mandatory. They're also highly contagious. But they're not transmitted sexually. It all stems back to that issue. But wait, is that the issue? What about hepatitis vaccinations? They are also mandatory. They're also highly contagious. The kicker? Hepatitis is transmitted sexually. I guess it doesn't stem back to that issue, does it?

None of the above diseases are exclusive to women. Few debate their necessity. Then HPV comes along, and suddenly, there is a problem with governmental health mandates. Who is doing the majority of the debates? Politicians. They do most of the time, don't they? Even today, with a woman in the running for the presidency, who actually stands a pretty good shot, women's health issues are being left behind. Maybe it's a statement from the patriarchy that women will never make the decisions. Or that decisions that benefit women will never be made. I'll leave this conspiracy to another article.

Minnesota State Representative Sandra Peterson, initially a supporter of HPV vaccination mandates, has now altered her stance because she feels the public needs more time to become knowledgeable about the issue. That makes sense. Because the discovery of this vaccination is quite new, it seems perfectly understandable for people to want to learn more about it before their children are subjected to mandatory injection. Then why are we not becoming more informed?

Does anyone remember when Lasik was new to the world of optometry? I know it wasn't mandatory, but, nonetheless, people were skeptical of complication possibilities. Lasik recipients were able to research the procedure and its effects. Many still took the risk and had the surgery; however, those patients made that decision voluntarily for their own personal treatment. In most cases, Lasik is not a health issue, and it certainly isn't sexual.

The point for some is that people do not like governmental mandates, particularly when the government has not seen fit to properly educate us prior to implementation of those mandates. With a governmental hold on information, it's no wonder people want to learn more.

Others questions whether or not the government is withholding information. If they are, point taken. If they aren't, then why isn't the media addressing this by providing us with the facts? Maybe they could make better use of the time they spend covering Britney Spears' shaved head or the Floridian judge's sensitivity over the location of Anna Nicole's burial. Instead of focusing only on the debates about HPV, it might be beneficial to actually provide us with information about the issues surrounding the vaccination.

Is it not natural to resist that which we do not understand? And on a separate note, how is it possible for a government that will not issue nationwide health coverage to mandate health issues? How are those without insurance supposed to find the money to pay doctors bills to get these vaccinations? Is the government going to pay for it? Are they also going to provide physicians free of charge to those who don't have access to medical care - maybe because they don't have the insurance to afford it? Maybe I should work on a series of articles pertaining to this...

In my mind, HPV vaccinations correlate to the distribution of condoms. (And birth control, for that matter... Remember when our President tried to take that choice away from us?) Opponents view the circulation of condoms to our teens as a promotion of sexual relations. Supporters know what it really does is promote safe sexual relations among all.

If a person is not planning to have sexual intercourse, giving that person a condom is not going to alter that plan. What it will do is serve as a reminder that if a decision is made to have sex, a condom should be used. And bonus! If they already have the condom, they don't have to deal with the pressures of buying one. Let's face it, buying condoms can be embarrassing.

Ironically, Governor Rick Perry and his state of Texas was the first to pass legislation mandating the use of this vaccine. Didn't former Texas Governor George H.W. Bush institute an abstinence-only sex education in that very state? Maybe had safe sex practices been taught in Texas schools (or nationwide), there wouldn't currently be the need to initiate mandatory HPV vaccinations. What a novel idea! Isn't that what the opposition to abstinence-only sex education said in the first place?

If male condoms had been distributed or female condoms introduced (I could even write another entire article about the double standards still in practice), HPV might not be so common amongst women today. Maybe they would have learned to practice safe sex if sexuality had been covered at all. Maybe people would have learned to get themselves checked out so they aren't spreading viruses they didn't even know they had. If buying condoms is embarrassing, imagine how much worse having to get an STD test would be.

I know, there are a lot of "if's," "maybe's," and "why's," but someone has to brainstorm here. And I feel pretty confident in saying the government hasn't been faring so well in that department. Iraq, anyone? And on that note...

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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