The HPV vaccine is a new vaccine approved by the FDA that is said to be 100% effective in preventing diseases that are caused by the Human papilloma virus (HPV). Don’t let this become too misleading. This vaccine only protects against four different types of HPV and therefore does not protect against all types of the virus. There are currently more than 40 types of HPV that can infect men and women. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer in women and other (less common) types of cancers. Certain types of HPV also cause genital warts in both men and women. This means that even with the HPV vaccine there is still a significant risk of cervical cancer and genital warts, diseases that will not be prevented by the HPV vaccine. This vaccine only reduces the risk, it isn’t really 100% effective. It is also less effective if you do not get all three doses (3 shots) at the right times or if you have already been exposed to HPV.
The HPV vaccine has been recommended for 11-12 year old girls, but it can be given to girls as young as 9 or as old as 26. The main goal is to get the vaccine to females before they become sexually active. The vaccine is mainly effective for girls or women who have not yet been exposed to the four different types of HPV covered by this particular vaccine. Anyone who has already been infected will not get the full benefits of the vaccine. It may still be effective for some females who have already been exposed to HPV if they have only been exposed to one or two of the four different types covered by the vaccine.
The HPV virus can cause cancer when it causes the cells in the cervix to change. While in many cases the HPV goes away, there are some cases that it doesn’t go away and instead it continues to change the cells on a woman’s cervix. This can lead to cancer. The percentage of people who will be infected with HPV is staggering. At least 50% of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV. That comes out to be around 6 million people. Other than the vaccine to “help” prevent it there are no current treatments for HPV.
Should your daughter get the HPV vaccine? As a youth pastor should I recommend that the parents of the teenage girls in my youth group take their daughters to get this vaccine? Where should we stand on this issue as Christians and as responsible adults?
Let me first make this very clear. The only SURE way to prevent HPV is to abstain from all sexual activity. This works 100% of the time, it protects you from all 40 different types of HPV, and it almost completely eliminates the need for an expensive vaccine that may or may not prevent diseases related to HPV. Any parent who is concerned with their teenager’s health enough to make their daughter get an expensive vaccine should equally spend as much money and time making sure their daughter remains abstinent. The HPV vaccine is not a quick fix to deal with the sexual activity of teenagers. If parents are truly concerned with the health and wellbeing of their teen and desire what is best for their teenagers spiritual life then parents need to show the same amount of concern and effort for teaching their teens to be sexually pure as they show for keeping their teens healthy. The $360 it costs for the three doses of vaccine may even be better spent on $360 worth of abstinence protection and training.
Protecting your teenager from disease is not as simple as going to get them a few shots. Parents need to be actively involved in the lives of their teens. Not only do they need to talk to their teenagers about sex and sexual purity, but also they need to establish guidelines that promote purity. Parents who allow their teenage girls or boys to be in the bedroom or basement alone with their boyfriends or girlfriends with the door closed and the light off are asking for trouble. This type of freedom promotes sexual exploration, not purity. The best way for teenagers to prevent these HPV related diseases is to remain sexually abstinent and parents they need your help! They need you to set boundaries for them. The HPV vaccine is not a boundary. It is a vaccine that helps take away the consequences of having multiple sexual partners and therefore promotes teenage sexual activity rather than prevents it. Here is the rub. The HPV vaccine does not prevent pregnancy, HIV, 36 other types of HPV, or many other STD’s. All the risks of being sexually active (including cervical cancers) are still there and yet the vaccine is offering teen girls a false sense of security. If teenagers become even more sexually active after receiving the vaccine, they are at a greater risk than they were before the vaccine was administered.
In my opinion there are only a couple reasons that the HPV vaccine should even be considered. If you are a parent who, against better judgment, doesn’t really care if your teenager is sexually active, or if you are a parent who promotes it or gives your teen the freedom necessary to be sexually active then by all means get your daughter the vaccine. If you are a parent who is certain that your teenager is sexual active despite all that you’ve done to prevent it, then you may also want to get the vaccine (however, never give up promoting abstinence and remind them of all the other risks involved.) The most legitimate reason to get the vaccine is for any future risk that could be out of the control of your teen. While abstaining from sex is the best way to prevent it, you can’t always prevent the person you are going to marry down the road from making mistakes. Even if you’ve only had one sexual partner, if the person you are with has had previous sexual partners then you are still at risk. In the case that your daughter remains sexually abstinent but then desires to marry someone who may have made a mistake early in life then it would be good for her to receive the vaccine. Remember, however, that the vaccine does not have to be administered right away. Your daughter doesn’t need the vaccine right now if she is waiting until she gets married to be sexually active. When it comes to the point of marriage then she can consider getting the vaccine. Another responsible way of dealing with the issue is promoting abstinence with your daughter and waiting until she is old enough to make the decision on her own as to whether or not she wants to get the vaccine. This could prevent the early, false sense of security that teens with the vaccine could develop which may prevent them from making a choice to be sexually active.
This remains to be a sensitive subject with a lot of different points of view. From a Christian perspective, however, the right thing to do is for parents to promote sexual purity regardless of whether or not they feel the HPV vaccine is necessary. Any parent who has a real concern for their son or daughters health and future WILL do what it takes to help their teens live sexually pure. That doesn’t mean just paying for a few shots and calling it good.