The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. It is sexually transmitted and can lead in some cases to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can lead to loss of fertility, ongoing health problems, and even death (4000 women a year die from cervical cancer in the U.S.). Now there is a drug available called Gardasil that can vaccinate pre-pubertal girls against HPV before they become sexually active. Some religious groups such as Focus on the Family oppose mandatory vaccination of girls in public schools because of their belief that abstinence is the best way of protecting against the virus and because they feel that parents should be the ones who decide whether their children are vaccinated. The problem with this reasoning, however, is that girls who practice total abstinence and later marry a man who carries this virus are also at risk of infection. In addition, some parents may put moral scruples ahead of the best health interests of their kids.
Estimates are that by the age of 50, 80% of women have been infected with HPV. Given the fact that a substantial number of girls will not practice abstinence during adolescence and early adulthood, both inside and outside of marriage, it makes sense to make sure that they are protected against HPV (Gardasil protects against two HPV types that account for 70 percent of all cervical cancer, and two other types that cause 90 percent of all genital warts). To let moralistic concerns interfere with the health needs of girls growing into womanhood is itself morally questionable. Get your child vaccinated against HPV and encourage your school, municipality, and state government to support vaccination programs of this kind. Read about this issue in a New York Times article, “A Vital Discussion Clouded,” by Denise Grady.