The Corpus Callosum

Yet Another HPV Vaccine Controversy

You’d think we’d be done with this.  Actually, maybe we are,
because now the controversy has moved to the UK:

over cancer jab plan for all schoolgirls

  • Mass vaccination ‘will save lives’
  • Parents fear rise in underage sex

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
Sunday December 24, 2006
The Observer

Schoolgirls as young as 12 are to be vaccinated against a sexually
transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer, under controversial
plans being drawn up by the Department of Health.

Millions of girls would be immunised at school against human papilloma
virus (HPV) before they become sexually active. Research has shown the
virus is one of the key causes of cervical cancer, which kills around
1,000 women a year.

Routine injections against HPV have already been adopted in some US
states and a handful of British parents have begun buying the
£450 injection for their daughters through private clinics.
The vaccine was licensed here earlier this year…

…The move will be controversial with some parents, who fear the jabs
will encourage unprotected sex or send confused messages about the
right age for girls to lose their virginity…

It is hard for me to understand this argument, so I tried to think back
to my own childhood, to see if vaccinations encouraged me to engage in
any particular behavior.  Let’s see…I got the tetanus
shot…OK!  Now I can drive rusty nails into my feet!

No, kids do not think about the implications of their shots.
 To them, it’s just one more annoying thing that parents make
them do.  

As for changing the rate of underage sex, not much we’ve tried has
changed that a bit, so I doubt that these vaccinations will make a bit
of difference.  


  1. #1 Pescador
    December 24, 2006

    I never went through puberty as a female but I imagine those who do are beset by a variety of emotional signals regarding their future first sexual intercourse. But I seriously doubt that any of those signals equate to an image of driving a rusty nail into their foot.

    It seems reasonable to me that if a parent / school system / public health system / family doctor (i.e. society) vaccinate a 12 yo against this virus – that some children could conclude that society has some expectation that they will engage in sexual intercourse following that vaccination.

    It also seems reasonable that such a conclusion could cause some young girls to engage in sexual intercourse before they might otherwise do so.

    It’s also possible that the child would receive the message from society that sexual intercourse is a somewhat dangerous activity that carries risk and therefore things like vaccinations (and other kinds of caution) are necessary.

    I agree with you that the vaccination probably won’t have much effect on underage sex. I just don’t think the argument is that hard to understand psychologically.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    December 24, 2006

    “Sex can give you cancer, but this vaccine might protect you.”

    That’s a message designed to make 12-year-olds run out and have sex, all right.

    As opposed to “Sex can give you cancer, but I would rather you get cancer than have sex”, I suppose. I mean, how do you guarantee your daughter will marry a virgin?

  3. #3 Joseph j7uy5
    December 25, 2006

    As three of the other ScienceBloggers (Effect Measure, Pure Pedantry, and Mike The Mad Biologist) have pointed out recently, something like 90% of Americans have sex before marriage. So when you ask “how do you guarantee your daughter will marry a virgin?”, the answer is: you can’t; in fact, she almost certainly won’t.

  4. #4 jayh
    December 26, 2006

    I find it incredibly doubtful that any young person will choose whether to have sex based on a possible threat down the road. Generally folks that age live in a 3 week time window. That whole argument is like arguing to remove seatbelts from cars to reduce speeding. Duh.

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