Lindsey Sloan Peterson, Grand Forks, column: For HPV, the reality is pay now or pay laterWhile there’s no treatment for the virus itself, there are vaccines that can prevent infection by common types of the virus, which means the vaccines also prevent cancer.
By: Lindsey Sloan Peterson, Grand Forks Herald
By Lindsey Sloan Peterson
GRAND FORKS — Gardisil is a vaccine that helps ward off HPV strains that cause cancer. There are many reasons to inoculate young people with such a vaccine, so why isn’t it required?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least half of all sexually active people will contract the human papillomavirus or HPV at some point in their lives. But HPV is a serious virus that can cause a variety of cancers, often in the reproductive organs of both men and women.
For example, cervical cancer — which is most often caused by HPV — is the second-leading cancer killer of women worldwide. Most recently, throat cancer also has been linked to the virus.
And while there’s no treatment for the virus itself, there are vaccines that can prevent infection by common types of the virus, which means the vaccines also prevent cancer.
The debate continues about what’s best for young people. There are several strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets the strains that cause cancer.
Currently, two vaccines that are Food and Drug Administration-approved are available.
For maximum effectiveness, young people should be vaccinated between ages 11 and 12.
This is the source of the controversy over mandating the vaccine in schools.
The solution is simple: education. For example, many parents are concerned that a young person who has been vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease may be more likely to engage in sex. But recent studies have shown that this fear is unwarranted.
As the studies show, there is no increase in sexual activity among children or teens who have been vaccinated.
Publicizing these results should help parents understand that the vaccines offer potentially lifesaving benefits while carrying very few risks.
A debate also continues about school vaccine requirements, which are determined by each state. At this point, North Dakota does not require the vaccine.
Likewise, there is “no mandate for sexuality education, nor does it (the law) address what can or cannot be taught in sexuality education classes,” according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.
North Dakota also does not mandate content for HIV, sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy prevention education.
Giving parents the education they need is essential. Also, the primary messages that should be sent about this vaccine involve health and prevention. In effect, people should be asked, “There’s a common virus at large that your child may come in contact with; and in some cases, this virus causes cancer. But there’s also a vaccine to prevent it.”
It’s clear that offering prevention is not only easier and cheaper but also more effective than offering only treatment. The HPV vaccine is a perfect example, and it’s one that can spare countless individuals untold dollars and pain.
HPV infection is a significant and potentially fatal problem. But it’s a problem that also has a solution, if the solution is allowed.
Peterson is a graduate nursing student at UND.