Stories like this one at anti vaccine sites are unfortunately typical in their misinformation and use of hyperbole and sound bites rather than informing the reader in a non-biased manner. What I found amusing is that the specific approach used in this article actually plays into the hands of pediatricians…
Let’s ignore the rhetoric of the “dangerous” HPV vaccine (it is not) or the claim that it has caused “as many as twelve deaths in the US alone” (it has not) and focus on the headline of the piece.
“California mulls giving 12-year-olds STD vaccine Gardasil without parental consent”
While being technically correct that Gardasil does indeed protect against a sexually transmitted virus, the implications here are clear – anything involving 12 years olds and STDs is immoral, and anything where the parents have no say is unethical. Putting the two together is an order of magnitude worse!
Far from implying that 12 year olds are “sexual animals” (their words, not mine) the simple fact is that the 11-12 year old well-child visit is a perfect time to address many aspects of preventative care before the child becomes a teenager. This is why the vaccine is recommended at 11 years even though it is approved down to 9 years of age. Updating the vaccines at that visit is a no-brainer. With any luck the kids are NOT YET “sexual animals”, because ideally you want to protect them before that happens. Getting the HPV shots started 6 months before a teen’s “big night” is, I’m sure, not something they have on the calendar…and having taken care of my share of teenage mothers I can vouch for the fact that planning their sexual activity is clearly not something they are very good at at all.
Sexual health for teens includes proper counseling, education, and access to contraception. Abstinence is the most obvious way to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies, but abstinence-only education is associated with HIGHER rates of pregnancy and SIMILAR rates of STDs than more well-rounded education! Over half of abstinence “pledgers” will still go on to have pre-marital sex, the same rate as teens who don’t pledge abstinence (80% in fact denied ever having pledged in the first place…) While there may be an initial delay in the first sexual episode, after that the lack of proper education really does these people a disservice (if they are delaying sex, but their STD rates are similar, then someone is playing catch-up!) Not giving them a vaccine that, if all three shots are given on time, protects against 70% of cervical cancer is simply wrong.
The second part is whether or not parents have a say. In general, parents operate under the assumption that they are responsible for the health and well-being of their child until they are an adult. They get to call the shots (pardon the pun) and have access to all the information. Sadly, as some discover, that simply isn’t true. Parents do have the responsibility to take care of their kids, but if they fail to do so then the authorities can step in and take over that responsibility – most obviously in cases of child abuse or neglect. Effectively the State acts as if it is responsible for the welfare of children and merely delegates that responsibility to the kids’ parents or legal guardians – a delegation they can revoke if need be. But a lesser known area where parents lose their right to control their kid’s healthcare is sexual health.
It is clear that in order for teens to feel safe about coming forward to ask for help with sexual health issues, this MUST be done under strict confidentiality. Having a requirement that parents provide consent to treat (as is needed for every other situation except life-threatening emergencies) is a barrier to effective safe treatment of teens sexual health issues. The laws vary by State but in many places minors are allowed access to confidential sexual healthcare.
Ironically perhaps, by trying to demonize Gardasil as a way in which the medical establishment is sexualizing the youth of today, and labeling it explicitly as a sexual health vaccine, antivax groups are automatically putting it outside the remit of parental oversight. In the same way as a sexually active teen can (and should) get advice, contraception or treatment for STDs without fear of their parents knowing about it, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to ask for a sexual health vaccine under the same existing laws.