The HPV Vaccine for Pre-Teens: My View as a Doctor AND a Father
Recently, according to new recommendations, my office has started giving the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine to boys. This, as in many other doctor's offices, had brought up a crop of questions.
This vaccine represents a whole different genre of disease prevention as it provides immunity to a sexually transmitted disease and at the same time, immunity to the sole cause of cervical cancer. I have reckoned with the HPV vaccine on two levels - as both a father and a doctor.
This blog will cover my views.
The Vaccine Controversy
The HPV vaccine has the misfortune of having a stigma on two different levels. First, it is a vaccine and second, it involves a sexually transmitted disease.
For some reason, the notion of vaccines has become controversial and I feel like most of this is due to misleading information and rumors about their risks.
For instance, one of the most popular arguments against vaccination - that vaccines somehow cause autism. This has has been shown, hands down, to be false, however the myth persists and I hear concerns regarding it to this day. As a doctor, these mistaken ideas are really worrying. Sure, shots hurt and they can cause some minimal reactions, but, I have seen countless kids with crippling polio in India that could have been prevented with a vaccine. I have seen an infant patient in the hospital ICU on respiratory support due to pertussis contracted from an adult whose immunity had waned.
Parent/Child Sex Talk Discomfort
Unfortunately, sitting down with patients to discuss pre-cancerous pap smear findings and the implications of genital-anal warts has been commonplace. Prior to the vaccine, 50% of sexually active Americans contracted HPV sometime in their lives. It will be nice when abnormal paps and warts are a rarity!
Many parents feel that simply forbidding sex will be enough to prevent the potential consequence, but there exists an ideal world and a real world. In an ideal world, two people meet each other, fall in love, commit to spend the rest of their lives together exclusively and then do so. However, as parents it's important that we recognize that in the real world, this is not common.
As a parent myself, I need to come to terms with the fact that no matter what I teach my children - that they should marry before sex - there's a good chance this ideal scenario will not play out. The best option (and thankfully there is an option when it comes to HPV) is to cover all contingencies.
So, I will STILL discuss with my children my beliefs, my hopes for them (that they wait for marriage), and the risks of pre-marital sex such as pregnancy and STD’s, but if they decide not to wait or their future life partner has had previous sexual contact, at least I can take comfort in knowing they have gotten (or will get) the HPV vaccine. By no means does giving my children this vaccine give them my permission or blessing to become promiscuous. It simply covers a possibility that is out of my control.
This Doctor/Father's Recommendation
In conclusion, I recommend the HPV vaccine for my patients and my own family. The HPV vaccine prevents disease which is not only life-threatening in women, but emotionally scaring. While most of us have hopes for our children that through their behavior, HPV will not be an issue for them. The fact of the matter, however, is that the odds are not in favor of this scenario. My advice is to cover for all contingencies. Talk to your children and educate them, but also vaccinate.
Do as the saying goes for the good farmer: pray for rain, but prepare for drought.
Photo Credit: surfergirl143