Frustration with Anti-Vaccination
This spring a group of Connecticut physicians urged state lawmakers to mandate the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for all Connecticut students entering high school.
The bill has stirred up intense emotions among parents on whether or not to allow their children to receive this vaccine. Yet, the HPV vaccine is most effective if given before the age of fifteen, which is why these physicians pushed to have the legislation passed for those entering high school. To protect against infection of HPV, one receives 2 doses prior to age 15. If two doses are not completed by age 15, three doses of the vaccine are needed to complete the series.
Some parents object to this vaccine because of their personal and religious beliefs. It is a rigid divide between the two groups known as “anti-vaxxers” and those in support of the vaccine. The Human Papillomavirus is a family of viruses that are transmitted via skin to skin contact, including sexual contact, and can cause devastating cancers. In particular, each year, more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. More than 250,000 women alive today currently struggle with cervical cancer. They undergo painful surgical procedures, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. They live with the worry, the pain, the emotional and financial cost of this disease. Each year, more than 4,000 women die of this disease. That a simple vaccine can prevent these cancers is truly amazing. However, the HPV vaccine bill is extremely controversial legislation. One position of the “anti-vaxxers” is that if given the vaccine, adolescents will be more likely to have sex, as if the knowledge that they are protected against this particular STD will encourage intercourse. However, not all sex is consensual. In an awful scenario where sex may not have been consented to, not only would emotional and possibly physical damage be present, but also, if unvaccinated, the looming risk of infection and potentially cancer.
Most parents would agree that they consider it their duty to protect their children from harm. This vaccine is the only one that can protect against cancer. Additionally, many anti-vaxxers are swayed by unverified and inaccurate information about the vaccine. This inaccurate information is often found on the internet and scares parents into thinking this vaccine (and others) will harm their children. At the recent public hearing at the Connecticut State Legislature, I was stunned to see the number of people protesting the bill. One anti-vaxxer insisted, “This vaccine caused my child to become paralyzed.” A pathologist stated, “The HPV vaccine causes chronic Lyme disease.” These blatantly false statements cannot be supported by empirical study. However, a hysterical mother on the stand could sway legislators who are parents themselves.
At the public hearing, I testified in front of a committee of representatives and senators in support of the legislation. I was surprised to see the number of people who were not fully informed or perhaps had a blurred view about the bill. The HPV vaccine would be a mandate, not a requirement, which is a crucial difference. The details of the legislation only sought to make the vaccine an “opt out” vaccine instead of an “opt in.” This means that children will routinely receive the vaccine along with all the others - measles, mumps, polio, etc.. Making it a mandate gives the ability for parents to opt out of the vaccine if it does not seem fit for their child based on any religious, personal, medical reasons. The vaccine saves lives, and the vaccine series as a teenager can save the adult from cancer decades later.
Unfortunately, on April 13, the bill to mandate the HPV vaccine did not pass. It is a controversial topic but I am encouraged to think my classmates, my generation, might never suffer from the diseases HPV brings. This one vaccine can protect us all from dangerous illnesses that could still affects us decades later. However, the opportunity to put this dangerous cancer behind us is now. We have the opportunity to make HPV a diagnosis of the past so that our generation can live cancer-free into the future.