There is an undeniable need for better education on HPV

Although I was grateful to find an article that initiated some dialogue on the debate of mandatory human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations for girls (“Bill Sparks Debate Over Health vs. Parents’ Rights,” Tri-Town News, Feb. 22), I was disheartened by the lopsided coverage of this issue.

Len Deo of the New Jersey Family Policy Council was interviewed and was quoted as saying that he cannot support administering the HPV vaccine to young girls because – unlike polio and the measles – HPV is only passed through being sexually active, “and if a child is taught to be abstinent until marriage, they will never have to worry about HPV.” This egregious statement encapsulates why the United States is currently experiencing an HPV epidemic in which 20 million Americans are already infected with HPV and 6.2 million new cases are reported every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Not only is Mr. Deo attaching judgment and stigma to an otherwise unpoliticized public health issue, but he is spreading myths about HPV itself. While it is correct that HPV is often transmitted through sexual contact, HPV is an infection of the skin, which means that it can be transmitted through genital contact that does not have to involve intercourse. In addition, HPV can also be passed from mother to child during childbirth. Young people – whether they choose abstinence or not – should have access to the full range of protections from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Next, despite Assemblyman Sam Thompson’s support for the HPV vaccine, I was outraged by his comments that likened the vaccine to a solution for a so-called “teenage promiscuity” problem. Any tool designed to prevent HPV is a much-needed response to an STI that can cause cervical cancer and that, despite its severity and high incidence rates, was virtually unheard of five years ago to most women. Mr. Thompson’s comments represent a larger gender bias that blames women and is unfortunately found even on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Web site, which advises men that “There is no clear health benefit to knowing you have this virus – since HPV is unlikely to affect your health and cannot be treated.” According to Mr. Thompson, vaccinating girls will help to stem the effects of their “promiscuity” and according to the CDC, men need not worry about a thing.

Last, I am not clear on why the author did not interview a health professional in order to get specific information on HPV and the vaccine, and instead gave Mr. Deo a platform to advance his organization’s policy agenda at the expense of women, girls, and in some cases, newborn infants. Not only were the comments collected for this article disturbing and racked with inaccuracies, but they demonstrate an undeniable need for better education on this critical health issue.

Emily Kronenberger

Point Pleasant