Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Legislating Awareness

Have I mentioned that I also teach sex ed? Anyway, I was pointed to this article
about the HPV vaccine. For those of you who fast forward through all those cancer from a virus commercials here is the cliff notes version. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) refers to a collection of similar viruses that like to hang around human genitals. The viruses can lead to warts, and some other symptoms but often result in no symptoms. Approximately 80 percent of the population has some form of the virus. It is in fact the most common sexually transmitted infection. However, it doesn't get a lot of after school specials because in most cases it resolves on it's own. HPV is highly treatable with antibiotics. However, in some cases, untreated HPV leads to other issues, including cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects the recipient from most forms of HPV. Currently the HPV vaccine has only been approved for use on girls ages 9-26.
DC other some jurisdictions are considering making it a required vaccine. The DC proposal would allow parents to "opt-out". This concerns me. As I was reminded recently, some of the laws and rules we have are because people are stupid. So sure, making the vaccine a requirement might make people who are not aware of the vaccine, aware. And the more people who know about it, the more people who will consider getting it, or getting it for their kids.
Some groups have expressed concern that the vaccinated might then feel that they have a blank slate to be promiscuous. I find that silly, although certainly I would hope that the medical professionals administering the vaccine would explain that just like the flu vaccine doesn’t mean you will never get sick again, the HPV vaccine offers some protection but not complete protections since it doesn't even protect against all forms of HPV, to say nothing of the many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). (The vaccine also only protects you if you have not already been exposed to HPV.)
I recognize that there are many ill-informed people out there, but no one worries that getting a chicken pox vaccine makes you hang out with the poxed people so I don't understand the thinking there. But, that said, I'm not sure anyone should have to have a vaccine that protects against a STI in order to attend school. I attended high school in Maryland, but I wasn't required to get the Hepatitis B vaccine in order to attend school. The article covers that and sponsor Councilmember Catania seems to be suggesting that with the high rates of cervical cancer in DC, the aim is to make parents aware and get them talking to their kids. While I commend those aims, I'm not sure that it is a governmental responsibility. (I do understand that part of this is also some federal funding that's on the table.)

Thanks to DCist for the link to the article.