by Patty Fisher, 9 Oct 2006
As if we needed another reminder of how quickly kids grow up, doctors are now vaccinating 11-year-old girls against a sexually transmitted virus.
Gardasil, the new vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) that was approved by the government this summer, began arriving in the Bay Area recently. Kaiser Permanente will start giving the shots today.
HPV causes cervical cancer, the second-deadliest form of cancer for women. Ten women die every day from the disease in the United States, and there are 10,000 new cases each year. By protecting against the two deadliest types of HPV, Gardasil can prevent up to 70 percent of those cases.
The development of the first vaccine for any kind of cancer is a medical milestone we couldn't have imagined a few years ago.
And yet there was a certain reluctance by some to embrace the new vaccine because, well, you know how squeamish Americans can be about sex. Some self-proclaimed ``pro-family'' groups initially raised fears that giving the vaccine to girls before they become sexually active -- when it's most effective -- might encourage promiscuity. As if human papillomavirus is high on a kid's list of reasons not to have sex, ahead of AIDS and pregnancy.
Eleven is not too young
Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, chief of Kaiser's San Francisco teenage clinic, has no patience for those who say 11 or 12 is too young to get the shots.
"This is not a vaccine for sexually transmitted diseases,'' he stressed. ``We're talking about cervical cancer. This virus is everywhere. You can get it without having sex. It can be on your hands.''
Besides, he said, some sexual activity is not consensual.
"If your daughter were a victim of date rape, I wouldn't want her to develop cervical cancer later on because she wasn't vaccinated.''
For the record, Gardasil isn't just for middle-schoolers. My teenagers are definitely getting the shots. The FDA recommends it for women up to age 26. Wibbelsman said even women who are already sexually active can benefit if they haven't been infected with HPV.
And what about boys? Can't they transmit the virus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Gardasil also is being tested on boys, but the results aren't in yet. Researchers hope it will not only prevent men from passing on HPV but also protect them against penile cancer and genital warts.
Tough to talk about
Genital warts and cervical cancer aren't easy things to talk about around the dinner table. Face it, parents can no more imagine their 11-year-olds having sex than 11-year-olds can imagine their parents having sex. But parents don't have to get into the details with their daughters. They just have to make sure they get the shots.
Sharon Levin, a Redwood City mother of two girls, is pretty sure that her 12-year-old daughter is years away from having sex.
"She still thinks kissing is gross,'' Levin said.
Nevertheless, she asked her doctor about Gardasil and will have her daughter get the first of three shots at her next check-up.
"It's like any other vaccine: It's to prevent her from becoming ill,'' she said. "My mother died of pancreatic cancer, so cancer is something we talk about.''
Levin's advice to parents who might have doubts about the vaccine?
Get over it.
"It's like those people who say if we don't have sex education, then kids won't have sex,'' she said. ``Imagine if parents told their kids not to look both ways before crossing the street. We can't be there all the time, so we have to give them the tools they need to be safe.''
In this case, we're giving them more than a tool. We're giving them a gift that might save their lives.
Absolutely. Give your 11 years old daughter this vaccine. Do it. Now.
Don’t mind the fact that vaccine can be THE cause of the disease. More important is that you are told on TV or by your family doctor that this vaccine will save your kid’s life. Or not. Do get this vaccine, buy it. Give in to this global hype about mass vaccination. Support pharma industry with your buck. Nevermind the health of your children. Just do as you told.