Debates rage over whether HPV vaccine should be required for school-age girls
By: Vanessa Puig
It is one of the most revolutionary vaccines ever created. Introduced last year, Gardasil is a breakthrough vaccine that can prevent various types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can eventually cause cervical cancer in some women. With approximately 6.2 million people getting the virus every year in the U.S., the vaccine is an incredible step in saving lives.
So with a vaccine that promises to prevent cervical cancer, getting women and girls to take it would be a no-brainer, right? That’s the debate among several lawmakers who are trying to determine whether the vaccine should be mandatory for school-age girls as young as 9. Here’s a look at the arguments from both sides.
For the Vaccine Mandate
In medical history, there has never been a vaccine known to prevent cancer until the FDA approval of Gardasil. Gardasil is a series of three injections that, when administered to girls and women from ages 9 to 26, prevents contraction of HPV Types 6, 11, 16 and 18. These types of viruses can cause cervical cancer, which the American Cancer Society estimated was the cause of death for 3,700 women in 2006. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 50 percent of sexually active people have some form of HPV and that 80 percent of women will have contracted the virus by age 50.
Thus, there are many who want the administration of Gardasil to become mandatory for middle-school age girls. The ideal time to receive the vaccine would be before becoming sexually active. Once a woman has contracted any of the four forms of the virus she cannot be protected against that strain (although she can still be protected against the other strains she has not received). Therefore, legislators in several states, like Texas and Virginia, are pushing to make the vaccine mandatory for young girls in school. Texas Governor Rick Perry attempted to issue an executive order that would require all sixth grade girls to receive the vaccine, but the order was later rescinded by the state’s House of Representatives. Perry stated it was passed “in hopes of saving young girls’ lives.”
Against the Vaccine Mandate
While the benefits of the HPV vaccine are extraordinary, many legislators and members of the medical field are opposed to making the vaccine mandatory for female students. The American College of Pediatricians has stated that although studies of the vaccine have shown encouraging results, mandating the vaccine for girls is “a serious, precedent-setting action that trespasses on the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children as well as on the rights of the children to attend school.”
Requiring that girls as young as nine years old receive a vaccine that can only be spread via sexual intercourse, also raises some eyebrows. The vaccine would most likely open up the door to teaching young girls who may not have even reached puberty about sexually transmitted diseases, a route that many parents might not want to explore at an early age.
Then there’s the issue of cost. The three-dose injection of Gardasil is expected to cost $360. Insurance companies may or may not cover this amount. In either case, drug manufacturers would stand to make an incredible amount of money if the vaccine was mandated—a possible motive for why the issue is being pushed so hard, especially when the drug is so new that there have not been any clear indications of the long-term effects of the treatment.
The overall consensus appears to be that the vaccine itself is the next step in preventing disease for future generations to come. As far as the administration of the drug goes, it is something that many will be keeping an eye on for a very long time.