The debate over the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has found its way into state legislatures, medical circles and our homes. If given to young girls, does it immunize them against some forms of cervical cancer? Are there side effects to Gardasil that won’t become apparent for many years? Does taking the vaccine make it more likely teenage girls will become sexually active?
HPV, human papillomavirus, is sexually transmitted and has no symptoms. It causes 70 % of cervical cancer cases. It’s been widely assumed that parents opposed to premarital sex are less likely to give their daughters the vaccine. At least that’s what researchers believed before a study conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch yielded surprising results. The study indicated a mother’s views on premarital sex do not determine whether she favors giving the vaccine to her daughter.
In 2007, researchers surveyed 150 mothers at a UTMB pediatric clinic. They found mothers made their decisions about Gardasil independent of their views on premarital sex. Mothers who favored the vaccine believed it would work safely. Those opposed worried about side effects.
The study was funded in part by Merck, the company that makes Gardasil. Merck, of course, insists the vaccine is effective and safe. Skeptics, however, argue Gardasil could give young women a false sense of security. It may be years before questions arising from the HPV vaccine debate are answered completely.