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The Gardasil Controversy: How To Respond

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

In my last blog I didn’t get around to discussing Gardasil, so let’s look at it now.
Gardasil is the HPV vaccine. It contains four strains of HPV, two of which are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancers and the other two are responsible for causing warts. Gardasil has been a hot button issue for many parents and for good reason.
First of all, HPV is different from chickenpox and other communicable diseases because the only way in which a girl can get HPV is through sexual activity. The best way to prevent getting it is simply through abstaining from having sexual relations. You can believe that I let all the kids in my practice know this from the get go.
Second, many mothers worry that if they immunize their daughters with Gardasil then they have given the ‘green light’ for them to have sex. I use the Gardasil discussion as a means to do just the opposite. I tell girls that sex is such serious stuff that millions are being immunized against diseases that come as a direct result of having sex. I hope this help sober them regarding sexual activity during their teen years.
Third, there is the fear that Gardasil may cause physical damage to girls since it is a relatively new vaccine. There are anecdotal stories about things happening to girls who have gotten Gardasil, but nothing has been definitively linked to Gardasil. Remember, we must be very careful about stories circulating on the internet.
Fourth, many mothers feel protective of their daughters and feel that it is ridiculous to give girls an immunization against an STD when their girls aren’t sexually active. I understand this.

I have three daughters of my own. But here’s the problem we mothers face: Suppose our daughter stays a virgin until she is married. She marries a terrific guy but he made a few mistakes when he was younger and had sex with one or two women. What then? Will he give his new wife HPV? Most likely he will because here are the facts: About 75% of all sexually active men and women have been infected with HPV at one time or another. So if a man has had one or two sexual partners previously, chances are excellent that he has HPV. That is how rampant this problem is. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Certainly none of us want cervical cancer to be part of our daughters’ lives.
Here is what I recommend in my office: I have a long and sobering discussion about sex and STDs with all young teen girls and boys and their parents. I work very hard to get them to put the brakes on when it comes to sex (see my book Your Kids At Risk). If a girl tells me that she intends to have sex anyway, I tell her that she needs Gardasil. If she is willing to wait, I keep close contact with her to support her decision. Then as she nears her twenties, we give her the Gardasil series. What I am opposed to is giving young girls the shot without telling them how serious sexual activity is. Every parent should have this discussion with their daughters and their sons. After all, boys carry HPV as well, but they do not have the same cancer risk until later in life when HPV can lead to penile cancer. In fact, boys will probably be getting the Gardasil vaccine very soon as well.
These are tough days and require tough decisions. Remember: if you and your daughter decide that she should have the vaccine it doesn’t mean that you are sanctioning promiscuous sex. You are simply helping her deal with growing up in a sex-saturated culture which is not looking out for her best interest.
If you have questions, I would recommend visting www.medinstitute.org. They have terrific, medically sound information. You can also write me and ask questions and I will do my best to answer as many as possible.

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Feeling a a bit uneasy about having "the talk" with your son or daughter?
Dr. Meeker is here to help! “How to Talk to Your Kids about Puberty & Sex (ages 8-18)” is her most comprehensive course ever and she’ll equip you to have that conversation with knowledge, confidence and sensitivity. Check it out!

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