Thursday, June 20, 2013

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate - That is the Question

In our day and age the question to vaccinate our children is not even a question, unless you are in a very small minority that believes that vaccinations cause Autism. For the most part parents don't believe that. They believe that NOT vaccinating their children is putting them at risk of contracting a disease, like whooping cough or polio. So why don't parents feel the same way about vaccinating their children against HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women and oral and throat cancer in men.

(Image borrowed from Think Progress)
My daughter turned 12 in March and I knew when she was a baby that I would have her vaccinated for HPV. It was never a question about whether or not I expected her to be sexually active at 12 (which she is not) but a question of whether or not I wanted to protect her from cervical cancer when she was older.
When I was in my early twenties one of my best friends was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on her cervix. I had barely started seeing an OBYN in college (once) and didn't start seeing my regular OBGYN (who is still my doctor 20 years later) until I was 23. In fact, my friend and I were seeing the same doctor when she was diagnosed. What impressed me about the whole experience was how quickly our doctor acted and how he did not even play around with that diagnosis. First he froze the first layer of cells and when that didn't work he went in and cut away the next layer.
After seeing how committed he was to taking action and helping my friend I was forever in debt to my doctor. I don't think he even knows that. Another thing that happened was that I became forever mindful of having my yearly well-woman check-up. I do not play around with that either. My best friend went in for her yearly and ONLY one year later she showed signs of pre-cancerous cells. THAT'S how fast that can show up.
Now I'm the mother of a daughter and in the years since I was a young woman technology has developed and now we have vaccines to protect our young girls from cervical cancer. Having had the experience years ago with my best friend there was no question in my mind if I would have my daughter vaccinated. So a few months ago after her 12th birthday I took her to see her pediatrician and my PCP and she gave her the first dose.

I feel good about my decision and today I read an article in the New York Times that says that the "HPV Vaccine Is Credited in Fall of Teenagers’ Infection Rate." That is good news! And all this despite the fact that the U.S. lags sadly behind other countries like Denmark, Great Britain and even Rwanda.
Now the question is, do I also vaccinate my son in a few years? Some people are giving Michael Douglas a hard time for saying that in some cases the type of oral cancer that he has is caused by HPV. There's been a lot of controversy around his comments but the truth remains that what he said is true and it's not a bad thing. It's a good thing that a celebrity like him is bringing attention to such an important and not so familiar issue.
I read an article just a couple of years ago via and a men's health magazine that discussed in detail how HPV was a leading cause in mouth and throat cancer in men. There were experiences by men who talked honestly about how they would have never imagined when they were young that oral sex could lead to an HPV infection that could later lead to cancer. That was the first time that I became aware of this type of cancer in men and yes I thought about my son.
What I can't understand is why there is such a moral stigma attached to vaccinating our kids when they are kids. Vaccinating my daughter against chicken pox doesn't mean that I think she's going to go to a chicken pox slumber party. Vaccinating her against CERVICAL CANCER doesn't mean that I'm going to send her off to some experience where she may become exposed to HPV.
What it means is that I know that one day, when they are adults hopefully, my kids will be sexually active. I hope that when they are they are responsible, but the truth is, like driving, I don't know who else is out there. I want to protect them the best way that I know possible and yes vaccinations are one of the ways that I can do this.
I plan on talking to my OGBYN about his opinion on having my son vaccinated too when he turns twelve.

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