Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Presidential hopeful Rick Perry got into an awful lot of trouble for trying to mandate Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. But at least parents would have had the chance to opt out for religious or other reasons.
AB 499, which has been passed by California’s legislature and is now awaiting a yay or nay from Governor Brown, not only doesn’t offer an opt-out, it also ensures that parents may not even know if their son or daughter has had the vaccine. I’ve got to hand it to Merck; that’s an absolutely brilliant way to ensure that potential side effects and adverse events aren’t reported for study.
Here’s the thing that shocks the heck out of me. I’ve had tons of people try to badger me into getting Gardasil for my daughters, including pediatricians and gynecologists. And, frankly, it always turns out that I know more about the vaccine and HPV than they do.
“It’s almost 100 percent successful in preventing HPV infection,” they say. Sure—for the two oncogenic strains it contains, but not for those that currently cause some 34 percent of cervical cancers, nor for any that might fill the biological niche left by the vanquished strains. And the latest results show an overall 17-45 percent reduction in cervical abnormalities, not 100 percent. “Really?” they say.
Uh, yes.(Shouldn’t you KNOW this?)
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I believe that being fully informed means…being fully informed, both as the giver and as the receiver of the HPV vaccine, or any other healthcare choice. That’s the basis for intelligent decisions.
Yet if AB 499 becomes law, some spotty little twerp who doesn’t even know that smoking hugely ups the chances of getting a persistent HPV infection—or, for that matter, why the word ‘persistent’ is important—can pull the HPV vaccine trigger on a 12 year old. The kid won’t be considered smart enough to have a beer for another 9 years, mind you, but somehow he’s smart enough to completely understand, and consent to, the risks and rewards of a vaccine. Right now. Oh, and of course he’s confident enough to say ‘no’ to a doctor if he weighs the risks and rewards and decides against it.
So I’m one of those 'crazy anti-vaxxers,' right?
I fully expected to get Gardasil for my kids when it came out. But I'm a parent. So I researched and thought carefully about our options. What I found was that there is a lot of anecdotal information about autoimmune disease being triggered, a plausible theory backed by a reputable study about why this might be so, pause for thought in Merck’s own studies; and strong evidence that Merck’s marketing machine has emphasized the risks of HPV, completely ignored the role of individual lifestyle choice, and minimized potential risks of the vaccine.
And as The Lancet puts it, autoimmune diseases “arise in genetically predisposed individuals but require an environmental trigger.”
My kids have a family history of autoimmune disease, specifically MS. One child has already been diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, which could be something or nothing. We try to keep the environmental triggers to a minimum. So, as a parent, I made an informed choice to get the kids Menactra to avoid a rare but terrifying disease, but nixed the Gardasil, which seems largely unnecessary for our particular family. (We eat our veggies, don’t smoke, get the whole healthy immune system thing, and understand the importance of regular Pap smears.)
Our choice, and one that we have every right to make. Other families with different circumstances and habits might well, even SHOULD, make a different choice. This is America, right?
Governor Brown has already taken steps against a circumcision ban—ironically, circumcision is proven to help reduce the spread of HPV—and vetoed a ski-helmet law on the basis that parents have the right and the ability to make reasonable choices for their children. So let’s hope good things come in threes.
And Planned Parenthood should be ashamed of itself, too.
Me, I’m Planned Parenthood’s dream. I’m socially liberal. We have health insurance, so we don’t use their services, but I’ve always donated so that people who don’t have health insurance have options too.
I don’t run screaming at the very idea of my kids having sex, although I’ve given them The Lecture about rights and responsibilities, physical, emotional and spiritual.
I’ll talk to them about anything and frequently do, much to their horror. (Particularly, it must be said, after a large g & t. Yum—Hendricks or Cardinal gin. Eat your heart out, Big Brands!)
If they want to go to a gynecologist, I’ll drive them there, pay the bill, and stay out of the room while they’re talking. But again, I understand that some kids, maybe even mine, can’t discuss some things with their parents. Although it pains me to think it’s necessary, I do think PP needs to provide services to kids so that they can be marginally more intelligent about the choices teenagers are wont to make.
But the organization’s arrogant support of AB 499 is going way too far for me. So Planned Parenthood is quite literally off MY Christmas list.
No perfect choices.
It’s quite possible that in 10, 20, 30 years one of my kids will be one of the tiny minority of women who suffer the effects of a persistent HPV infection, and I’ll bitterly regret my choice. It’s also quite possible that if I gave it to them I would be one of the tiny minority of parents who bitterly regret saying yes to Gardasil, like the Tetlocks or the Tarsells.
There’s no perfect choice. As a parent, I make lots of probably imperfect, but informed and thoughtful, choices. And guess what, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and the policy makers of Planned Parenthood?
It’s none of your damn business.