This is the first in a series about HPV vaccine. Tomorrow Cary Crall will focus on a discussion of Gay Mormon Men and HPV vaccine.
I am going to speak as a doctor here, on how we are denying our children the benefits of a life saving vaccine. There has been some amount of media attention about the issue of vaccinating girls and young women against HPV and I am going to review that and then talk about why we also need to vaccinate our sons.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing the debate about the HPV vaccine. Every credible public health professional has advised the vaccine for every female by age 13. A lot of parents have resisted that because it is a vaccine against a sexual transmitted disease, and they don’t anticipate their daughters being sexually active until much later than that. I understand that, and I understand any parent who doesn’t want to appear to endorse their daughter being sexually active at that age. But can everybody please just think about all the possibilities?
First of all, 99% of all 13 year old girls will eventually have sexual relations at some point in their lives. So they need the protection of the vaccine. They might eventually marry a man who was divorced or sexually active with somebody else prior to that marriage who carries the virus. The virus causes warts which are uncomfortable, but it also causes cervical cancer which is deadly.
So why don’t these girls get the vaccine later, when they are close to marriage? Well, for one thing there is no reason to wait. Nothing about the vaccine requires them to be sexually active. Furthermore these young women should be advised of the numerous other consequences to unprotected sexual activity including other deadly STDs such as HIV and Hepatitis C, not to mention the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Another reason for early vaccination is that HPV is actually much easier to spread than other STDs and can actually be spread without sexual intercourse. Many of our daughters might engage in some intimate behaviors but still maintain virginity, yet still contract the virus. This virus spreads by contact and does not require penetration. And of course, some of our daughters will make the decision to have a sexual relationship while they are teens. Many of them will grow up, get married and even get married in the temple, and have children, but still die of cervical cancer because of lack of protection when they were teens. Furthermore, the sad reality of our society is that our daughters stand an unacceptably high risk of being raped or sexually abused before they complete high school. This is one of the damages that can be preempted. Imagine dying at age 35 because of a rape that happened to you when you were 15. This really does happen.
Meanwhile if it is hard to convince parents to vaccinate their daughters it is even harder to convince them to vaccinate their sons. True, men can’t get cervical cancer, but they can get warts which are uncomfortable, and a few of them will gets cancers from the same HPV virus in other parts of their bodies. But more important, many of them will get the virus and will later infect their wives, many of whom will later die leaving them widowed, often with children. If both girls and boys got this vaccine, young men would stand a much smaller chance of being left alone by losing a spouse to cervical cancer.
So if hysteria, prejudice, prudery and misinformation is poorly serving our young women, our young gay men don’t stand a chance. The fact is this: HPV is also deadly to gay men more than straight men. Gay men actually die at high enough rates that it is warranted for every young gay man to get the vaccine. And like young women they should get it as teens, because it is only effective if given well before sexual activity begins. I really hope that your sons won’t start experimenting with sex as teens. However some of them will. Some of your straight sons will experiment with other boys. Some of your gay sons will too. Some of your sons will be raped or sexually abused. Some of these same boys will go on and marry women and infect their wives and lose them to cancer. Some of these boys will grow up and get a cancer themselves that could have been prevented. And yes, some of them will later enter same-sex relationships and choose to have sexual relationships where they will be exposed to this virus that can be deadly.
My message: Please vaccinate your young teens against HPV. Don’t wait. Do it while they are young enough to get the full benefit. Do it to protect your daughters. Do it to protect your sons from infecting their future wives. Do it to save the lives of your gay sons. Don’t let ideology get in the way.
****Note to gay men. If you have been sexually active, there is a chance you still might not have been infected, so it is well worth considering the vaccine even if you are older. If you have never been sexually active, go get the vaccine now. If you have been sexually active you should discuss the possible benefits with a knowledgeable physician, being aware that most physicians aren’t knowledgeable about gay men’s health issues. Read Cary Crall’s article that will be posted tomorrow.****