There’s always one question my daughter asks when I schedule a pediatrician’s appointment. “Are there going to be any shots?”
This is the first time I’ve hemmed and hawed. The fact is, there should be a shot this year. She’s going in for her annual checkup just after her 11th birthday, and the CDC recommends that all girls 11 to 12 get the HPV vaccine (often called by the brand name Gardasil).
I expect her pediatrician will tell me it’s time she get the shot too. One of the things I like best about him is that he’s absolutely adamant about kids getting vaccinated, and we’ve always been on the same page.
But not this time. If offered the HPV shot, I’m going to politely decline.
I’m not a vaccine truther. Up to this point, I’ve followed the American Academy of Pediatrics’ vaccination schedule to a T. I don’t believe the thoroughly debunked pseudo-study that claimed vaccines cause autism, nor do I buy the scientifically disproved theories that Gardasil kills dozens of kids. I am actually fully in support of girls (and boys!) being vaccinated against a virus that causes almost every case of cervical cancer in the U.S., along with 91 percent of anal cancers, 75 percent of vaginal cancers and 72 percent of cancer to the back of the throat.
So why wouldn’t I be yanking up my kid’s sleeve and saying “inject here, Doc!”?
Because most of the literature I’ve read says that Gardasil remains effective for about six years. Although some studies indicate it provides immunity for a longer period of time, there hasn’t been enough actual research done to determine if we need to give our kids booster shots to thoroughly protect them from HPV after that six years is up. It might! But unfortunately right now the scientists don’t have enough data to give us a definitive answer.
Simple math says that vaccinating my daughter against HPV at age 11 means she’ll be protected until she’s 17 (and maybe longer, but again, they can’t say) if it only lasts six years. So what happens after?
CDC statistics show that the average age American girls lose their virginity is 17.2 (boys are just a wee bit younger, at 16.8). My kid could lose it earlier, certainly, but then again, she could lose it later… by which point she could be wholly unprotected. What’s more, it’s possible (based on that math) that any intercourse she has after age 17 could subject her to the risk of encountering the very disease the vaccine is meant to prevent. Maybe. Possibly. That’s all the scientists can really tell us.
So what’s the point?
I’m not naive enough to think my daughter will be one of the rare Americans who waits until well into her 20s to lose her virginity, but I’m pretty confident she will not be having sex at 11. Not only do I know my kid (who, just two days ago, emphatically informed me that kissing boys is gross), but the data is on my side. The youngest age of virginity loss the CDC accounts for is 14, and fortunately that number is less than 5 percent among girls who live with both parents. It’s not hard to imagine that this number drops even lower for younger girls. The longer we wait for her to get the shot, the longer into the peak sexual experimentation years she stands to be protected.
So I’m taking a risk, but a calculated one until scientists can gather some data to make me feel a little better about the long-term efficacy of this vaccine.
Based on a whole lot of facts and figures, I’ve decided to put off my giving my daughter this crucial shot — not forever, but for now — to give her a better chance at immunity when she does need it.
Now let’s hope it works.
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