Debate on HPV vaccine skirts issue

March 2, 2007 

It's about sex.

Concerned groups of doctors and advocates and suddenly pure legislators are trying to turn the debate about the HPV vaccine - which might eliminate most forms of cervical cancer - into anything but what it's really about. Sex.

A bill has been introduced to mandate that 12-year-old girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer.

Let's examine the claims:

"We don't know enough about the long-term side effects of the vaccine."

Has there ever been a drug created that came with zero risk? This vaccine has gone through the rigors of the FDA approval process, and most doctors surveyed said they would give it to their own daughters.

We don't know the long-term effects, though testing suggests we have little to worry about. But we know if we don't do something, roughly another 40,000 women over the next decade in the U.S. will die.

"Parents should make the decisions for their children."

I have a 5-year-old son who won't be admitted to kindergarten if he hasn't had the required immunizations and vaccinations. We already don't let parents have carte blanche over every decision for their children, which is why I would be fined if I don't strap my 2-year-old daughter into a car seat.

"South Carolina is a conservative state. We don't get involved in people's personal business."

That reasoning came from a member of the same S.C. General Assembly that recently implemented a primary seat belt law that says adults cannot choose to drive without a seatbelt.

"Regular Pap smears and abstaining from premarital sex can eliminate cervical cancer."

In a perfect world that may be true. But here on Earth, where health care disparities are rampant, almost 4,000 women a year die from the disease, and South Carolina has one of the highest rates.

And sometimes young women are raped and young girls sexually molested.

The real reason for the debate? There are those who want cervical cancer to remain a threat to scare young girls into sexual abstinence. Such tactics have never worked and never will.

Sometimes young people make mistakes about early sexual activity, no matter how many times and in how many ways they are warned, sort of like the rest of us.

How frustrating it is that instead of wiping a dreaded disease from the face of the earth, we are debating about whether we should?

ONLINE | For past columns and to read Bailey's blog, go to MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

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