it is exciting news that the FDA has approved a vaccine to prevent HPV infection. The rub is this vaccine is most effective when given prior to a woman becoming sexually active. The current FDA approval is for the use of the vaccine in girls age 9 to 26. Should this vaccine be required for attendance at public schools?
The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide June 29 whether to endorse routine vaccination with Gardasil. That endorsement is critical if a vaccine is to become a standard of care.
It then will be up to individual states to decide whether to add the vaccine to the list of others required before students may attend public schools.
Some groups including Focus on the Family oppose mandatory vaccination against a sexually transmitted disease as a requirement for public school attendance. Their position paper states:
Focus on the Family supports widespread (universal) availability of HPV vaccines but opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry to public school. The decision of whether to vaccinate a minor against this or other sexually transmitted infections should remain with the child’s parent or guardian. As in all areas of sexual health and education, Focus on the Family upholds parents’ rights to be the primary decision maker and educator for their children regarding the potential benefits and risks of the vaccine.
The requirements for vaccinations before attending school have traditionally been based on preventing diseases likely to be spread in the school setting. Measles, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, pertussis, and polio are all risks among an unvaccinated school age population. Still, there is a precedent for vaccinating against a disease associated with risky adult behavior. The hepatitis B vaccine prevents against a virus that is transmitted sexually or via contact with blood and body fluids. It is a significant risk for IV drug abusers. It is also a risk for health care workers and emergency first responders. This vaccine is now initiated in newborns and a required vaccination in many school districts.
I suppose some have reservations about the mandatory use of the HPV vaccine because there is no risk of exposure to HPV outside of the sexual setting. Why should I have to utilize an expensive mode of prevention (estimated cost is $360 for the required 3-shot series) when I instruct my children in the virtue of chastity and teach them to be abstinent until marriage? The vaccine is going to be most effective if large segments of the population are vaccinated creating a “herd immunity”. Mandatory vaccination will accomplish this. While our daughters may be intending to remain chaste the tragedy of rape does occur. In spite of our best efforts our children will not always adhere to our teaching and will make mistakes. In addition our children may marry someone who carries the virus from a previous exposure.
Seeking protection against untoward circumstances does not compromise the lessons of chastity. Just as I hope my children are never exposed to hepatitis B, I hope they are never exposed to HPV. Still, the decision to protect them against possible exposure is a reasonable one. The question is, “Whose decision is this to make?”