Let’s Talk About HPV, Baby

The first time I really understood what HPV meant was when I had an abnormal pap smear and later a biopsy.  A very intimate part of me had to be removed to see if the changes occurring in my body were severe.  Luckily they weren’t.

HPV, the Human Pappilloma Virus, causes genital warts and cancer.  That’s all I knew previously.  I later found out that using condoms doesn’t protect transmission, as all it takes is a little skin-to-skin contact for it to be passed from one person to another.  I also learned that almost everyone who is sexually active will have it at some point in their life.

I had heard of Gardasil, the vaccine that prevents against the most damaging strains of HPV, a couple times.  In a Biology course in college, my professor argued that HPV should be much more of a concern for everyone in the class than HIV, even though we heard virtually nothing about it.  Alarmed, I immediately went to my university health clinic for the vaccine.  I was told I wasn’t able to get it since I had one too many partners in my sexual history (2).  With student health insurance, the shot was $160 (and you need three for it to work).  I couldn’t justify the high price for something that my school nurses guaranteed would be of no help to me.  Later, I found out that the nurse was wrong and that point would have been a great opportunity for prevention.

I understand that we are learning more and more about HPV in recent years.  My peers and I were unfortunate enough to grow up in a time when the virus was very present but we lacked the information to protect ourselves.  Beyond the biopsies, some close friends have needed procedures to freeze off the abnormal cells in their cervix–a very difficult experience.

But we know more about HPV now.  We cannot continue to sit back and allow a generation of girls who don’t have the proper tools to protect themselves because of politics.

The war on women has received some major press in recent months, as the Republican Party is trying to take us back to a time they nostalgically yearn for when women had very little autonomy over their bodies.  It is no surprise they are trying to restrict birth control and abortion, but the inclusion of HPV prevention and Gardasil access in this war against women is a low blow.

Last week, Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina vetoed legislation that would provide Gardasil to middle school girls free of charge.  This legislation received overwhelming bi-partisan support and was incredibly watered down, but still the Governor put this culture war ahead of the needs of the girls of South Carolina.  Her reasoning was that it would be “a precursor to another taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate.”  This is hardly the first time HPV has been politicized.  Remember the Michelle Bachmann fiasco?

The biggest critics to Gardasil and the implementation of a larger, national HPV prevention program claim that the vaccine will cause young girls to become promiscuous, that this will be a gateway for Obamacare, and/or vaccines will result in learning disabilities.

Let’s look at Hepatitis B for a minute.  Every state requires children to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B, most of the time, before their third birthday.  Hepatitis B is a virus that causes liver disease and approximately two to four thousand people die annually as a result of cirrhosis or liver cancer.  Hepatitis B is largely sexually transmitted.

Did the vaccine program cause these young children to be more promiscuous, as many fear Gardasil will?  No.  Are we living in a country that has socialized medicine as a result of this government vaccine program?  Definitely not.  Is every child who has been vaccinated for Hepatitis B now stuck with a learning disability?  No, no and more no.  The vaccine program has only helped reduce the number of individuals who die from liver disease.

Approximately 4,000 women die annually from cervical cancer.  HPV has now been linked to an increase in other forms of cancer such as throat, anal, and penile.  With there being no clear symptoms–especially in men–to make you aware that you can pass it to your partner, these numbers are likely to grow continually.

Something needs to be done about HPV.  If not taking bold action to eliminate this virus altogether, and vaccinating young boys and girls as the CDC recommends as well as proved so successful with Hepatitis B, we at least need to provide comprehensive and medically accurate education to our youth to arm themselves against HPV.  This is the first time in history that a vaccine for cancer has existed.  We should hardly let such a scientific triumph go to waste, especially at the detriment of so many.




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