By now, Michele Bachmann’s remarks about the HPV vaccination may be old news. But they still infuriate me, so I’m going to set the record straight on HPV and the corresponding vaccine.
Let me rewind to last week’s Republican debate. The hilariously off-center (and I refer to her sanity here, not political leanings) Michele Bachmann attacked Rick Perry for his 2007 executive order mandating young girls in Texas to be vaccinated against HPV, a common STI and leading cause of cervical cancer in women.
I realize that vaccinating children is controversial. But, for me, this specific one is a no brainer: vaccinate against cervical cancer.
Unsurprisingly, Michele and I differ in our opinions on the HPV vaccine. Whereas I view it as a potentially life-saving medicine with limitless benefits, she views it as some sort of morally incorrigible, forced government intrusion:
To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. That’s a violation of a liberty interest.
A quick aside that I can’t resist: it’s incredibly ironic – hmm, moronic may be a better descriptor – that she’s against the government intervening to save girls from cancer, but has no problem squeezing the government into folks’ bedrooms.
But I digress.
HPV is incredibly common – so common that it’s the #1 STI. According to the CDC, HPV infections can cause genital warts and a variety of cancers in addition to cervical cancer, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx. This shit is no joke; hence the need for regular cancer screenings as well as vaccinations.
In response to the backlash created by Bachmann’s comments, news outlets began interviewing medical experts and reporting on the vaccine’s safety and life-saving ability. For example, NPR interviewed Dr. Jessica Kahn of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who elaborated the importance of the vaccine:
The vaccines that are licensed currently protect against four different types of HPV – Human Papillomavirus. One of the vaccines protects against HPV six and 11, which cause almost all genital warts, and both of the licensed HPV vaccines protect against HPV 16 and 18, which cause most cervical cancers and other HPV-related cancers. Now, the vaccines are about 90 to 100 percent effective in preventing infection with the Human Papillomavirus types that are targeted by the vaccines, and similarly they’re between 90 and 100 percent effective in preventing pre-cancers that are caused by those HPV types.
It’s important for kids to get the vaccine before they are exposed to HPV because the vaccines are not effective if they are administered after exposure to the HPV types that they target. And what’s really important to understand about HPV is that it’s spread through skin-to-skin genital contact. It’s not spread through bodily fluids, so a young person doesn’t have to have sexual intercourse to acquire HPV. And many young people in the early- and mid-teens are experimenting with such behaviors and thus they acquire HPV very early on in the teen years. So, for example, in a recent study that was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of the 14- to 19-year-old young women had already acquired HPV.
I think the point that one can contract HPV without having sex needs to be emphasized. So much of the anti-choice agenda – which has dangerously expanded beyond anti-abortion to include anti-birth control and anti-HPV vaccine efforts – seems to be about punishing young women for engaging in sex. But alas! You don’t need to have sex to get HPV – meaning the vaccine it isn’t the “sex vaccine,” which its opponents like to call it. And, for argument’s sake, even if it was a “sex vaccine,” so what?! Women do not deserve to be punished with CANCER for having sex. End of story.
The bottom line is this debate needs to be about accurate medical information and protecting women’s health, not about punishing or imposing an ideological agenda on sexually active women and girls. It will be interesting to see how this vaccine, not to mention birth control and abortion, will emerge in debates and presidential campaigns in the coming months.
What do you think about the HPV vaccine? Have you been vaccinated? Would you vaccinate your daughter(s)?