Cervical cancer vaccine

There is now a cervical cancer vaccine--actually there are currently two, Gardasil and Cervarix. Neither treats all the dangerous strains of HPV, but they are very honest about that. However, that still leaves open the possibility of infection with a cancer-causing strain of HPV.

I have mixed feelings about the vaccine (see My Blog). On one hand, I would love to prevent any other woman from going through what I went through with cervical cancer or even cervical dysplasia.

On the other hand, the vaccine is only partial prevention. And there are a lot of serious side effects that are emerging. After receiving the vaccine, some women have had neurological side effects and even died, which is scary.

The cervical cancer vaccine is recommended for young women ages 11-26 years old, ideally before they become sexually active. The reason why older women (older here meaning over 26) is that if they have had sex, they have probably been exposed to HPV already.

Gardasil has also recently been approved for use in boys ages 9-26 years old to prevent genital warts.

Vaccine limitations

Something nobody seems to be talking about is the fact that vaccines do not have 100% efficacy. There is a percentage of people who fail to become immune to any vaccine out there.

Right now in the United States there are outbreaks of pertussis, in spite of the fact that almost everyone getting the disease has had full immunizations! Pertussis may have mutated, rendering the vaccine useless against it.

The failure rate is one reason why so many vaccines are given in a series. Think about it....kids get the measles, mumps and rubella combination vaccine (MMR) in two shots. The first one leads to immunity in about 95% of kids. The second shot is to try to cover that remaining 5% who don't get immunity from the first shot.

However, there are still some people who just won't develop immunity from that second MMR shot. I'm one of them--I am not immune to measles but I had all the shots as a child.

Another reason to refuse vaccinations that is compelling to me is that an injection into your muscle is not a natural way to be exposed to a disease. We get exposed to viruses and bacteria through our mouths, eyes, and noses, and those are the "first line of defense." There are enzymes and white blood cells in our gut that kill off a lot of bugs, and if you do get sick, your body develops some immunity for the future.

Likewise with HPV. Since your immune system, in most cases, puts HPV under control on its own within two years, and HPV is the cause of cervical cancer in almost all cases, there is less gain to be had by a woman over 26 years old getting the cervical cancer vaccine. But it's not like it's dangerous to get it even if you're already sexually active.

My personal opinion is that if I had a daughter, I would not get her the cervical cancer vaccine. If she decided to get it on her own once she was off to college, I couldn't stop her. I would talk very seriously with her about what the vaccine can and cannot do, and what not having sex will do for her.

Since I'm not the type of mother who follows the recommended vaccine schedule, I am not going to take my son for this vaccine later either.

Because there's more than just HPV to worry about. Herpes is another life-long disease that you can get from skin-to-skin contact, even if you use condoms. And if they're not using condoms, then there are too many other things that can happen, one of the worst being HIV.

And, you know, while herpes won't kill you, it sure can be embarrassing to tell a new love interest that you have it.

I know that abstinence is not a popular topic, but I don't understand why not. It works to prevent all these diseases, and it also prevents a lot of emotional pain.

The vaccine also won't replace regular visits to the gynecologist for a pelvic exam. No one enjoys that trip, but don't skip it.