The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been getting a lot of press lately, largely due to infighting among Republican presidential candidates. Both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann have repeatedly attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry s efforts to require that schoolgirls in his state receive the HPV vaccine. Fortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics has stepped in to explain that the vaccine is safe; however, part of what the Academy must debunk is Bachmann s spurious claim that the vaccine may cause mental retardation. Another hurdle that must be overcome to get the vaccine accepted is the lingering concern that, by vaccinating pre-teen girls against a sexually-transmitted infection, the vaccine somehow encourages earlier sexual activity.
As we ve reported before, the vaccine protects against some types of HPV infection, which can lead to anal, cervical, and possibly throat cancer, as well as genital warts. While it s true that HPV is contracted sexually which is what makes some people uncomfortable about administering the vaccine to pre-teens early inoculation is preferable, since the vaccine is most effective in people who have never been exposed to HPV. Since it is well-known that HPV exposure is almost inevitable within a few years of initiating sexual activity, administering the vaccine at an early age makes sense.
ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross points out, that although mandating the HPV vaccine is a rational decision, the idea makes some people uncomfortable for a number of reasons. "We believe that parents should carefully consider the substantial benefits of the vaccination before making a decision," he says. And, as ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan puts it: What sort of society would debate over a vaccine that could save women s lives?