HPV vaccine touches off larger discussion on sex

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California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law allowing children as young as 12 years old the power to consent to HPV vaccines on Sunday. Upon first glance, this does not seem like such a big deal. HPV vaccines are known to combat human papillomavirus, precancerous cervical cell changes, and (potentially the most important) sexually transmitted diseases. This should be considered an achievement; Brown should be commended for his forward thinking. The measure was even backed by groups including the California STD Controllers Association, the Health Officers Association of California, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

I couldn’t agree more with Brown and his supporters’ decision. If anything, this law is a step in the right direction for our nation’s youth. Yes, 12 years old seems incredibly young to start discussing the grim realities of adulthood.

But by giving young teens the opportunity to reach out and find help for any STD related problems, Brown is encouraging an open discussion about sex. Talking frankly about the subject will make it less taboo and will make teens less afraid to ask questions and get information. And, let’s be honest, information is key when it comes to the topic of sex; misinformation is what leads to unexpected pregnancies and diseases. Only with accurate knowledge will young teens be able to judge how serious the act of sex is to understand the lifelong consequences of STDs.

Yet Brown’s actions have ignited waves of resentment and backlash from hard-line conservatives. The bill was opposed by the California Catholic Conference, which also opposed previous measures to allow minors to consent to certain medical treatments without parental involvement. This hardly comes as a shock.

The HPV vaccine has been a hot-button issue for Republicans throughout their 2012 campaign trails. Representative Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) and Governor Rick Perry (R–Texas) have especially targeted the vaccine, declaring it dangerous and harmful to minors. They and their supporters claim the drug inflicts ridiculously ludicrous side-effects such as mental retardation and autism. They refuse to allow the federal government to make such parental choices for them, given the so-called side effects.

“I’m not a scientist. I’m not a physician. All I was doing was reporting what this woman told me last night at the debate,” Bachmann said on Sean Hannity’s radio show in defense of her opposition to the vaccine. “As a mother, I would not want the federal government or a state government to mandate that my child have an injection, just because government says so.”

The Centers for Disease Control’s website reports that only mild to moderate problems are known to occur with the HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil. Typical symptoms include reactions where the shot was given, general pain, and redness or swelling. More severe symptoms include fever of 99.5 ˚F or higher, headache, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and fainting.

Moreover, according to a recent article on The Hill, “A report released in late August by the Institute of Medicine found no link between the vaccine and autism, the most common link claimed by those who oppose inoculation. The study also failed to find adequate evidence to suggest that the vaccine causes a dozen other serious adverse neurological and physical effects. It did, however, find some evidence that the vaccine could lead to anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic reaction.”

So, faced with the insurmountable evidence against conservatives’ unfounded assertions, it is hard to believe that they are solely angry at HPV vaccinations and the potential side-effects. What they truly seem to be incensed about is the overarching topic I mentioned earlier: sex. Conservatives, for some unknown reason, want to keep this topic behind closed doors. This is rather foolish for the same reasons I praised Brown’s legislation. Conservatives need to come to terms that teaching abstinence will not keep their children from “exploring” and “hands-on learning.”

Until people can escape their politically partisan biases, legislation like Brown’s will forever incite backlash from hard-line groups.
Until they can see the larger benefits of open discussions on sex, we will continue to see young teens fumble along the path to adulthood and make grave mistakes that will stay with them for the remainder of their lives.