Mandatory HPV Vaccination: Looking Past the Issue of Sex

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cervical cancer sexually transmitted infection

The fight against cancer has seen a small victory in a vaccine recently approved to protect against four types of human papillomavirus that account for 70% of those linked to cervical cancer. What seems like a godsend has erupted in a storm of controversy as many states recommend mandatory vaccination as a way to get the vaccine to the most people. The debate involves a wide range of players with different arguments all opposing compulsory vaccination as a prerequisite for public school attendance. In the end will the miracle of preventing cancer take a back seat to perceptions of sex?

The most obvious opponents are conservative Christian groups, however for many the stance has become more about parental rights than sexual morality. Opponents argue that parents should have the ultimate decision when it comes to vaccinating young girls. The elephant in the room, though, is that while the aim is to prevent a cancer that strikes thousands of women each year the cause is a sexually transmitted virus and the patients are adolescent girls aged 11 and 12. The connection between their own young daughters and sexual activity is causing a knee-jerk reaction that is drawing attention away from the fact that parents could be saving their children from a devastating illness and even death.

Because the story of this vaccine that could vanquish cervical cancer begins with sex, emotions run high. For many, there is not even a question – the best prevention is abstinence. Vaccinating against a sexually transmitted disease is being touted permission for youth to engage is sexual activity. Not only does it give the impression that sex is okay, and in this argument it is sex outside of marriage, but it will give teenagers a feeling of invincibility.

Ultimately, their daughters have no need for a vaccine that protects against a sexually transmitted infection because their daughters will not be having sex before they get married. Very little has been said about the boys in this equation, or the sexual history of the men their daughters will some day marry. Mandating a vaccine for human papillomavirus casts doubt and shame on their daughters. The State telling them they have to vaccinate for a sexually transmitted infection forces ideals and morals that are not their own onto their families. Emotions run high.

Mandatory vaccines do have a loophole that provides parents an out for a variety of reasons, but the violent rejection of the idea of making their children get vaccinated against HPV is one of principle. Just like the push for abstinence-only education in public schools, these groups will not be satisfied by silently taking the alternative. Whether or not this vaccine could nearly eliminate cervical cancer, because sex and the perspective of women’s sexuality are so closely tied to this issue, it is ammunition for a greater battle.

In the end, those who push for abstinence-only programs in schools and believe this to be the best prevention will not be easily swayed by the other side, who are just as passionately arguing for mandatory vaccination. If infection was determined only by the decision to abstain from sex until marriage, maybe this argument would hold water. Few decisions have the potential to save or end a life. In this case, maybe saving someone from a devastating disease down the line is the most important point to consider.

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