HPV Vaccinations: Choice or Mandate?

Leading Jewish women’s organizations have joined another “choice” debate. This time, it’s not about reproductive choice, but about whether to require the vaccine for human papillomavirus -- or HPV -- for girls and young women between the ages of 9 and 21. Just two weeks ago, Texas became the first state to require this vaccination that protects against the most common sexually transmitted infection known to cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Hadassah, with some Christian-Right bed-fellows, has been quick to criticize the state mandate, characterizing required vaccination as an infringement upon individual choice. It seems to me that Hadassah might be viewing "choice" from a somewhat classist perspective. Required vaccines allow the uninsured and poorest women in Texas to receive preventative treatment that would otherwise be unaffordable for them. On the other hand, Jewish Women International and the National Council of Jewish Women have voiced their support for required HPV vaccinations which they consider to be a responsible health and fiscal policy.

How do you feel about mandatory HPV vaccinations for girls and young women? What do you think about the stands taken by Hadassah, Jewish Women International, and the National Council of Jewish Women?

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I'm not at all concerned about this vaccine's so-called relationship to chastity. I'm concerned about my daughter being "forced" to have a vaccine that (a) is relatively untested, and (b) already causing serious side effects. I will make sure to educate my daughter about the importance of regular pap smears and safe sex. My inclination at this point is not to get her this vaccine.

I do understand the point made about classicism. If someone without the insurance or the $300 to pay for this expensive vaccine wants the vaccine, she should have access to it. Yet, I do not believe that it should be mandated upon all.

the simple fact of the matter is that HPV is NOT REALLY A BIG DEAL. According to the CDC, the center of disease control, the majority of healthy women clear the infection from their own bodies in a matter of weeks. It really only affects those with compromised immune systems. People get HPV all the time and it simply goes away on its own. It very rarely leads to cervical cancer. In fact, using their own figures, they claim that cervical cancer kills 260,000 woman world-wide. There are 7 billion people in the world. 4 billion women. That means you have roughly a 0.000065% chance of dying from this supposed huge threat to public safety. This is Merck attempting to monopolize the market through legislation before their competitor, glaxosmithkline, releases their version of the HPV vaccine: Cerverix. Is competition to stick admittedly experimental and ultimately unnecessary needles into our children really so smart?

If itÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s important enough for an Orthodox nurseÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s virgin-and-expected-to-stay-that-way-until-marriage daughter, thatÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s a good enough reason for me. Jewish tradition considers health such a high priority that a Jew is mandated to violate a law of Sabbath observance if necessary to save a life. As Mrs. Balabusta explained in her post, this is a matter of protecting oneself against both known and unknown health hazards. I'm in favor of making this vaccine mandatory.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his budget proposal, with a health initiative to make the HPV vaccine available to all girls between the ages of 9 and 18.

Click here for the Globe article. His proposal would not mandate the vaccine, but it would make it available to allÌ¢‰â‰۝potentially balancing the issue of classism JN raised in this post.

As a mother of a fourteen year old girl, this is a complicated issue. On the one hand, I think it is likely that my daughter will be having sexual relations in the next several years, so I want her to have the benefits of this vaccine. On the other hand, we don't yet know if there are any long term side affects. I worry about that. Although she will probably have the vaccine in spite of my worries, I wish she were younger and we had more time to see what happens. I don't think I'm alone in my concern.

When I read the comments people have written, I am a little surprised at their tone. I don't know if I think the HPV vaccine should be required, but I do think this is a tough issue.

Let's consider the conversation between a parent and a daughter before going to the doctor for her next check up. I like to explain everything the doctor is going to do, ahead of time. Do I want to communicate to my daughter that she is expected to have sex at a young age? If my daughter were nine, how would I relaxedly communicate to her that I want her to make healthy choices around sex? What if she is not ready to talk about these issues? Do I press it? What if I was a parent who was against pre-marital sex? Then what would I say to my daughter? I don't think these issues are easy for any parent. Pretending they are is not helpful.

I realize that parents talking to their daughters about sex at a young age may be a positive outcome of this vaccine. However, there is a risk of pushing parents too hard, which can result in their taking reactive positions. When parents are frightened and angry they frighten their children. That happens frequently on the topic of sex.

I think those of us who are progressive need to be more compassionate towards parents who are concerned about this vaccine. Even if we don't agree with their politics, we should not assume that any parent is unthinking and uncaring. When are laws the most useful way move society forward and when are other avenues of change more effective? How can we make policies that communicate respect to parents and young girls and the challenges they face?

Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.

Ì¢‰â‰۝ Supreme Court of the United States, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (Feb 20th1905)

102 years ago this ruling helped pave the way to a world without smallpox. We are being offered the opportunity to wipe out cervical cancer and people are once again claiming vaccination violates their freedoms. Ridiculous. According to the CDC by age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection. This is not a disease that effects some small minority of sexually promiscuous individuals. This is approximately one hundred and twenty two million women in the US. How one could live with being offered the opportunity to save lives and refusing based on a very tenuous civil liberties argument. This isn't a moral question, it's an ethical one. By refusing vaccination you are allowing an entity to exist that will kill approximately 4,000 women a year. Period.

I find it interesting that the Christian Right has teamed up with Hadassah on what the groups are calling a choice issue. How many vaccinations were you forced to get before you could go to school? I donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t recall having a choice in any of the vaccines my university required in accordance with state law, including: measles (two shots), mumps, rubella, tetanus/ diphtheria, hepatitis B (3 shots), and meningitis. Despite the abundance of needle phobia, who would question the validity of state required measles shot? Moreover, no one complained when chicken pox vaccinations were mandated in local public schools. Why are we confusing a matter of health and disease prevention with an issue of choice?

LetÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s get real. Discussing the prevention of an STD means people are forced to talk about the fact that people actually have sex. The Center for Disease Control estimates that Ì¢‰âÒby the age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV.Ì¢‰âÂå So clearly women (and men) are at risk of contracting the diseaseÌ¢‰âÂå_

Why not prevent it?

If we were talking about a vaccine for hepatitis or chicken pox, no one would be saying anything about Ì¢‰âÒpersonal choice.Ì¢‰âÂå This is a matter of public health. The Christian Right (and Hadassah, apparently) seems is far more concerned with the chastity of young women than the fact that this vaccine has the potential to prevent thousands of deaths each year due to cervical cancer. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Click here for a more thorough discussion of all these issues.

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "HPV Vaccinations: Choice or Mandate?." 22 February 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 11, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/HPVvaccine>.

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