Maybe nobody feels comfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases with their kids.
As a society, we look to parents to have these conversations, to talk to young people about the consequences of their choices. Maybe parents think talking should be enough, but let’s be realistic.
If there was a series of three shots you could get for your children that would prevent cancer later in life, wouldn’t you do that for them? So why are we so resistant to vaccinating our children against the human papillomavirus, a leading cause of cervical and other types of cancer?
On Monday, the journal Cancer published a study that found death rates of a highly preventable form of the disease — cervical cancer — might be significantly higher than estimated. Actual death rates are 77 percent higher among African-American women and 47 percent higher among whites, the study said.
“We have a vaccine which can eliminate cervical cancer, like polio, that is currently available, and only 40 percent of girls age 13 to 17 have been vaccinated,” Dr. John Farley, a practicing gynecologic oncologist and professor at Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona, told CNN. “This is an epic failure of our health care system in taking care of women in general and minorities specifically.”
The HPV vaccine has been around for 11 years, but as we reported over the summer of 2014, the vaccination rates in Indiana and elsewhere remain remarkably low. Public health officials are looking to physicians to talk about the vaccine with parents and get more 11- and 12-year-old boys and girls protected.
Studies have shown vaccinated children are no more likely to engage in promiscuous activity than unvaccinated ones. Even better, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the vaccine has nearly 100 percent effectiveness and has reduced HPV infection rates in teens by 56 percent — even with the low participation rate.
There are people who are concerned with the safety of vaccines in general. Since the HPV vaccine was released in 2006, the CDC reports safety studies and monitoring have been conducted, with no safety concerns arising.
We don’t need to make the HPV vaccine mandatory. We simply need more education so parents understand the HPV vaccine isn’t permission to engage in sexual activity. If health care providers recommend administration of the HPV vaccine at the same time as Tdap, a required vaccination for middle-school entry, as many as 93 percent of youth would get at least the first dose.
This is and it isn’t a conversation about sex. It’s really a conversation about health. If the vaccine prevented another type of cancer, would it still be as uncomfortable?