Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is spread by sexual contact. The body’s immune system usually eliminates the virus, which can cause genital warts and rare cancers in men and women, as well as cervical cancer in women.
A new vaccine on the market, sold as Gardasil or Cervarix, protects against some dangerous strains of HPV and can prevent 70% of cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective when administered before the girl or woman becomes sexually active. This pamphlet by the American Center for Disease Control lists basic facts about the vaccine.
A man and a woman in a lifetime monogamous relationship won’t need the vaccine, which is also available for boys. So some parents in the Orthodox community are not planning to get it for their daughters. One friend said to me, “I know my daughters, and they will get married young and have one partner.”
But is that realistic? While monogamy is currently the norm among most Orthodox young people, the virus is spread by sexual contact. Her daughters might choose husbands who are converts, baalei teshuva (returnees to Orthodoxy), or others who “were close to women in the past” (as an old roommate’s date told her).
What happens after marriage also matters. A friend in New York writes:
And here I am deciding about the HPV vaccine. I have a remarried friend who got HPV from one of her husbands.
Another divorced friend got the vaccine after her husband cheated on her repeatedly with prostitutes and a steady girlfriend.
But somehow the boys get a free pass to do whatever and then get married, while girls have to be angelic or ruin their chances of a shidduch. So just for that I want to vaccinate my kids.
And unfortunately, we can never exclude the possibility of rape or sexual molestation. Or that our children will choose a different lifestyle than we expected, with or without our knowledge.
There are 12,000 new cases in the US each year and approximately 150 in Israel. Israel’s rate of 6.2 per 100,000 is lower than the world incidence of 15.8 (source: WHO) and the US incidence of 8.1. The chances are low, especially with an Orthodox lifestyle, but fifty percent of cases are fatal.
Because the vaccine doesn’t prevent all cases of cervical cancer caused by HPV, women still need to get regular Pap smears.
According to Haaretz on December 6, the Health Ministry approved the import of 180,000 doses of the Cervarix vaccine to immunize 60,000 8th grade girls in 3 doses at the beginning of 2013. Until now the vaccine, which requires 3 doses over a period of six months, has not been included in the “basket” of free health services. All health funds offer it for a fee.
Few safety issues have been reported. See the CDC fact sheet on HPV vaccine safety warnings.
Have you considered getting your daughters vaccinated against HPV? If you have daughters in 8th grade, will you let her get the vaccine?
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image: steven depolo