Can we please stop equating the HPV vaccine with permission to have teen sex?

By Catherine O'Connell-Cahill| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog

I received a press release today saying that California’s new law allowing 12 year olds to get the HPV vaccine without their parents’ consent frightens author Teresa Tomeo, who equates the vaccine with giving kids “filtered cigarettes or light beer.” Uh oh. She goes onto say: “…when a tween or teen girl is given the vaccine, what are we saying to her? We are saying the same thing when we give her birth control pills or condoms: ‘You’re probably going to have sex soon anyway, so better safe than sorry.’”

We can agree or disagree about whether a state should require the vaccine or allow 12-year-olds to get a vaccine without their parents’ permission. But to say that giving the vaccine is the same as handing a kid birth control pills or condoms is just ridiculous, not to mention dangerous.

I disagree with those who would make birth control widely available to all teens just because someday they might have sex. I agree this is sending the wrong message.

But with this vaccine we are talking about something else entirely. The vaccine is suggested for 12 year olds because, in fact, yes, a certain percentage of them will soon be sexually active.

But by making the vaccine widely available, even to girls who have no intention of having sex as teenagers, we are certainly not saying, “Go have sex” in the same way that a birth control prescription would. The HPV vaccine protects even those young women who will not have sex until their wedding night! We’re talking CANCER here, folks. Finding out that you have cancer is way more terrifying than finding out you are pregnant at age 16.

The HPV vaccine protects our girls whether they have sex for the first time at 16 or 36. Are people seriously suggesting that parents should pass up the vaccine because they think their child will see it as some kind of permission to become sexually active? Give me a break.

Let’s say you virtuously decide to withhold this vaccine from your daughter. For whatever reason (let’s imagine that Obama’s health care plan is torpedoed somewhere down the line and she has no health insurance), she neglects to get it herself as an adult. Then she has sex for the first time on her wedding night with her husband, who is infected with HPV, which later causes her to develop cervical cancer. And you, her mom or dad, could have prevented this cancer by giving her three shots when she was 12 years old. How does your decision look then? Not so virtuous, I’d say.