Should My Young Daughter Get the HPV Vaccination?
The final and perhaps most vocalized concern about Gardasil is that it will lead more young people to have sex too early. This is the same concern that has continually been voiced about making condoms and other prophylactics available to young people. The fear is that protecting a teenage girl against the most dangerous strains of HPV via Gardasil will make her more likely to have sex outside of marriage or before she is mature enough, because she won't have to fear the possible consequences. To help you decide whether this argument should carry any weight in your decision-making, consider these points:
- Will the danger of contracting HPV prevent my daughter from having sex? The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 2002, 46% of never-married women between the ages of 15 and 19 had had sex. At that time, Gardasil was not available, and therefore all of those women were at risk for contracting HPV. So for 46% of teenage women, fear of HPV and other STDs was not enough of a deterrent to prevent them from having premarital sex. Still, it is possible that even more teenage girls would have had sex if Gardasil had been available and they didn't need to fear infection.
- If your daughter does decide not to have premarital sex, could she still be at risk for contracting HPV and, in turn, cervical cancer? The possibility exists that she might be forced to have sexual contact against her will. The CDC reports that one out of every six adult women has been a victim of rape. If your daughter is raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, she could contract cervical-cancer-causing HPV from her attacker.
- A woman can also contract HPV from her husband, because there is currently no HPV test to determine whether a man is infected. Most infected men don't even show symptoms of HPV, though they can still pass on the infection. To date the FDA has not licensed the administration of Gardasil to women over the age of 26, since it has not been sufficiently tested beyond that age range. Although some physicians will administer the vaccine to older women if asked, once your daughter is older than 26, it will be harder for her to get vaccinated.
For more information on HPV and the Gardasil vaccine, see the CDC's publications.