Anti-cancer vaccine: too hawt 4 ur kidz?

How’s this for short-sighted?  Only 1 in 5 girls under 18 have received the HPV vaccine as of the end of last year.  In the same story, “Anti-Cancer Vaccine A Tough Sell To Parents,” NPR reports that according to a study of 10,000 mothers who are nurses, almost half are squeamish about giving the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (the one that dramatically reduces the chance of cervical cancer!) to girls at the recommended age of 11 to 12, but more are OK with administering the vaccine to girls aged 15 to 18.

[Dr. Jessica] Kahn says that in a survey of 10,000 mothers who were also nurses, less than half were opposed to giving an 11-year-old the vaccine, compared with 90 percent who would agree to it for 15- to 18-year-olds.

“Nurses might be expected to be more supportive of vaccination,” Kahn said. “In a way, our study might overestimate the proportion of mothers who intend to vaccinate a 9- to 12-year-old daughter.”

But, she says, middle- to high-income parents tend to be more suspicious of vaccines. And that’s why communication between pediatricians and parents is important in easing concerns, Kahn said.

“If parents don’t believe the vaccine is safe, and believe the vaccine has serious side effects, that will weigh against their daughter being vaccinated,” Kahn said.

It seems like Dr. Kahn and NPR are conflating two issues here:  1) the unreasonable fear of vaccination that many middle- and upper-class parents have (which Historiann has written about previously here), and what I think is more at issue with the HPV vaccine, namely, 2) fears that daughters may actually have a SEX LIFE ZOMG!!!!111!!!!! someday.  If 9,000 nurses are OK with dosing older teenagers, but only about 5,000 are OK with dosing tweens, that means that about 4,000 have fears of adolescent sexuality rather than vaccine safety.  (And brace yourselves:  the NPR story reports that while the Center for Disease Control recommends that the HPV vaccine be administered to girls at ages 11 or 12, the Food and Drug Administration now recommends it for 9-year olds, “since the antibody response to the vaccine is better at younger ages than in the older girls.”)

Parents today engage in all kinds of preventive care and invest in all kinds of worst-case-scenario equipment in order to keep their little darlings safe.  And yet, we don’t think that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) will send the message that our kids should go consort recklessly with diseased children because they think they’ll be safe.  We’d never think of accusing parents who strap their children into car seats and give their children bike helmets of planning to get into car and bike crashes.  We recognize that random bad stuff happens to people, and we should feel grateful that we live in a world where we can minimize the risk of disease and trauma. 

Parents who think it’s OK to vaccinate at 15+ but who balk at 11 or 12 (or 9) need to grow up, because their children surely will.  Administer the vaccine when it’s most effective–and if that’s age 9 or age 7 or age 6 months, just do it.  Resistance to the HPV vaccine is mostly about fears that vaccinated girls will become sexually active solely because of this one vaccine.  But, guess what, parents of daughters?  Your kid will become sexually active someday.  Your kid may also get cancer someday.  Since there is no vaccine yet that will prevent sexual activity, let’s go for the anti-cancer vaccine, m’kay?

0 thoughts on “Anti-cancer vaccine: too hawt 4 ur kidz?

  1. I like your car seat and bike helmet analogy, and will shamelessly borrow it the next time somebody in my playgroup cries out proudly that her children are vaccine free.

    More on-topic, though — I’m always struck by the oddity of the imagined scene: Heavy making out, until one partner comes up for air and gasps, “No, stop! I’m not vaccinated against HPV! WE CAN’T!” Riiiiiiiiight.

    I wish they’d get around to using it on boys as well. Males also have risks from HPV (whether gay or straight), and even if they didn’t, they can carry it and pass it on to partners who weren’t immunized (for moral, ethical, or valid medical reasons). Immunizing a fraction of the population is helpful, but not the most effective approach…


  2. The hypothetically possible 6-month administration scheme would really be the test case in disaggregating these different expressed anxieties, wouldn’t it? Because it’s hard to imagine anyone professing to fear that the shot would give a six month old any “ideas,” as it were, or at least any that would incubate until adolescence. But never say never, I suppose. Any chance of this happening, the six-month vaccine I mean?

    Is that a “REAL” Archie commix, or some send-up?


  3. Hi Erica–thanks for stopping by to comment. I’m sorry to hear that anti-vaxers have infiltrated your play group. Have you pointed out to them the rank injustice of your children shouldering the (infinitesimal) risk of vaccination to provide herd immunity for the other children in the play group? All we need in in this country is an outbreak of polio or some other crippling disease right now. As though environmental disaster, wars aplenty, joblessness, lack of health care for millions AND the ongoing financial crisis aren’t enough to worry about.

    People! We’re trying to run a civilization here!

    And, yes: if the threat of AIDS and pregnancy are nearly powerless against teenage horniness, then the possible threat of eventual cancer is weak tea, indeed. I think they’re testing the HPV vaccine on boys too. My guess is that when it’s approved for boys, it will become a manly right of passage, instead of an opportunity to freak out about ZOMG!!!!!111!!! children’s sex lives!!!!!!


  4. I’m struck, too, by the hypocrisy of parents who are convinced that every adult male who comes in contact with their child is a molester, but who don’t act on that same fear to get their daughters vaccinated against something they could just as easily acquire from the dreaded rapist/teacher-priest-coach as from a fumbling consensual encounter before Mom & Dad get home from work.

    But I suppose denial is a time-honored family tradition, so who am I to say?


  5. @Historiann — it’s a large playgroup, and it’s only shown up once so far. The mother hasn’t been back since she showed up that time, either, although I have no idea if it’s due to me. Anti-vaccination people push my buttons. (I dislike them almost as much as 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and I HATE those guys.) Having given no thought to an appropriate, mature response to the situation, I resorted to giving her a horrified/disgusted look, saying “how disgusting”, then stood up and told my kids it was time to leave. The alternative I had at the time was swearing at her, which is never a good idea with preschoolers running around your ankles.

    However, calmly asking, “Oh, how INTERESTING. Do you toss your kids in the trunk to ride instead of requiring seatbelts, also?” would probably satisfy my desire to beat some sense into her without actually resorting to beating sense into her. Given the publicity of “zomg they cause autism” and lack of coverage of measles, mumps, and similar outbreaks, I unfortunately expect the topic to arise again. But next time I will have my talking points planned…

    Both my son and daughter have a few years to go before they are due for HPV vaccines, but you bet they’ll both be getting it. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (…or something like that).


  6. As you mentioned and my father professed: Everybody has sex- parents are idiots to think that a shot is going to turn their kids into humping rabbits (we have hormones for that!)
    I had one parent I work with explain that “we already bail our kids out too much- they need to live with the consequences of their actions” -WOW (did she let her kids run in traffic as toddlers???)


  7. Erica–you are HARD CORE! I would probably chicken out and just blink and smile if someone boasted of hir kids being “vaccine free.” I think I’m too paralyzed by the tyranny of niceness to do what I’d like to do, which is to do what you did. My hat is off to you, madam!

    Rose–you’re exactly right. Not all of the sex that adolescent girls have is consensual. (Even those fumblings with a boy her own age might not really be what she wants to happen.) This is another very good reason to get the vaccine, whatever you think about consensual teenaged sex.

    And Nicole: if vaccination is “bailing kids out,” then so is food, hydration, and tooth-brushing. That’s quite an image: childhood as a survivalist course! I guess I’ve always thought of those items as “the responsibilities of parenting,” not “bailing kids out” (of starvation, dehydration, and cavities.) Geez louise. It sounds like you have a reasonable father–you’re very lucky.


  8. You’re missing a big part of the picture here — how many of the 4/5 have health insurance? These vaccines are not cheap — I think the entire series is something like $300. Also, the vaccine only protects against two out of the four HPV strains that have been linked to cervical cancer. Finally, why just target girls — if you want herd immunity, boys should be vaccinated too (fyi — HPV has been linked to cancers in men as well). For more of my thoughts on this, see my blog.


  9. You’re right, KC. The NPR story addresses the cost issue, and points out that parents in Britain are less fearful of the vaccine, perhaps because it’s provided by the national health. But, the study of the nurses’ attitudes is what caught my attention. And, I agree that if the testing bears out, boys should get the vaccine too.


  10. I wrote an extensively documented piece about the vaccine on my website including questionable issues with the research, the FDA approval, and subsequent deaths and permanent paralysis as a result of this vaccine. Several states have reversed their decision to mandate after deaths in the area, one country has banned it until further testing, and another has a nation wide protest against including someone who ran in her local area on a platform to get rid of it.

    I know people who did the initial research that isolated HPV as a major cause and after doing the research on the drug I did I wrote a piece deeply concerned about its use.

    It isn’t just about squeamish parents its about testing, marketing, the history of the company that patented one of the two shots available, the death of young girls, and now the forced administration to any girls wanting to enter this country legally or become legalized when citizens do not have to take it. There is a lot more going on here than middle class mothers over active fears or purantical mothers nightmares.


  11. and it does not fight all types of cervical cancer so you still have to be tested, there are no longevity studies, and there is documented proof that some women who develop the types of HPV that are prevented by the vaccine never develop cancer.


  12. prof bw–thanks for stopping by to comment. I didn’t see your post on the HPV vaccine–can you give us a link?

    I realize that the vaccine isn’t perfect–it doesn’t bill itself as a 100% prevention against cervical cancer. I also realize that no vaccine is completely risk-free. I think the vast, vast majority of resistance to this vaccine is because it acknowledges that girls someday may have sex.

    I remain an advocate for vaccinating all children for everything. There are too many holes in our public health net now, because in part of irrational middle-class fears about vaccination (versus the real fears of disease!), and also because of inadequate health care for many families, who can’t vaccinate their children because of the cost. It’s a shame and a scandal in my opinion that there are measles outbreaks now–and who knows what else might be brewing somewhere because people can’t afford or refuse to vaccinate.

    Evidence-based allopathic medicine is what I want for everyone.


  13. I want to second what prof bw says. There are some really good reasons to be skeptical of this vaccine (which make it quite different from both things like seat belts and other, better-established vaccines) that do not at all involve being squeamish about sex or otherwise stupid or paranoid. The politics behind the approval and marketing of this vaccine should give one serious pause. Since you mentioned nurses, i will add that my person is a nurse, months away from being a midwife, and we are in agreement that if we had a teenager, we would likely not do Gardasil right now. And we are all about the evidence-based medicine. Right now, to me, routine screening is the better way to go.


  14. sorry about not including that:

    As I say in my conclusion of the piece the issue is three-fold: 1. uneven mandated use that targets a specific population popularly presumed to be brown,(regardless of actual race it is a mandated on a marginalized population based on their membership in that marginalized group) 2. the testing, marketing, and history of the vaccine 3. those things placed within a historical narrative of medical HSB and marginalized communities (yes, particularly with regards to issues of sex and gender related health) My post is more about that narrative than the others but their are links throughout to research, pros and cons, and critical questions about the vaccine including the CDC.


  15. prof bw: that is a great post–thanks for sending the link. I agree with you completely that it’s obscene and ridiculous for the U.S. government to force would-be immigrant women to take the vaccine, especially because the research suggests that its effectiveness in adult women in questionable. I also disagree with the efforts of states to mandate the vaccine (especially if they’re not paying for it), and share your concerns about Merck’s marketing and lobbying strategies.

    I guess I would say that just because a vaccine or medical procedure CAN be used exploitatively doesn’t mean that it isn’t also beneficial and useful. There was a big debate here this summer about Caesarian Sections–and opinion split along the lines of feminists (like me!) who support invasive allopathic procedures because in the end they save women’s and children’s lives, and feminists who are reasonably skeptical of surgical procedures like the C-section because they make things easier for the physicians rather than safer and easier for women and children. There is nothing inherently bad about any medical intervention: everything is context. Knowledge and consent are the keys to any legitimate practice of medicine. I believe most physicians today get this–but the allopathic medicial profession has not always put this at the center of their practice, as your apt historical connections show.

    And, ana: thanks for stopping by to comment. I am in awe of both nurses and midwives! Routine screening is clearly of central importance to women’s reproductive and sexual health. No vaccine will replace that–but it appears that Gardasil will prevent some of the deadlier consequences of sexual activity with men for some girls and women.

    (The Historiann C-section analysis and debate is here.)


  16. Pingback: Outrageous! Gardasil required of female green card applicants, to the tune of $400 : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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