There is a sexually transmitted infection that is often carried without knowledge, and many doctors fail to test for it because it has become so common. It is estimated that 50 percent of sexually active men and women will contract this disease at some point in their lives. This disease, the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, affects an estimated 20 million people in the United States alone. However, HPV carries a much greater danger: studies have identified it as the culprit behind the development of most cervical cancers. There will be an estimated 9,710 diagnosed cases of cervical cancer in the next year. For 3,700 women who receive the news, it will be the diagnosis that ends their lives. But cervical cancer is preventable and treatable, and the war on cervical cancer recently received a brand new weapon in the arsenal of prevention: a federally approved vaccine. [shot2]
The Merck Corporation gained Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to begin recommended vaccinations of girls nine to 18 years old with Gardasil, in order to prevent the spread of HPV and, subsequently, cervical cancer. “Catch-up” vaccinations are recommended for women ages 19-26. Gardasil comes in a three-dose series administered over a period of six months. “The Gardasil vaccine protects against four types of HPV including types six, 11, 16, and 18,” said Karen Kohlruss, a RN and Pediatric nurse at Holland Pediatrics Associates. “Gardasil may seem to protect only against a small number of the strains, however types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and high grade cervical lesions and types six and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts,”
Although the vaccine has the possibility of preventing a whole generation of girls from ever facing the nightmare of cervical cancer, questions are being asked about personal freedom. Should the FDA require girls to be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) when the nature of the disease itself depends entirely upon the sexual decisions of the girls in question? Should young women be entitled to make their own sexual decisions? The answers to these questions have sparked debates in many parts of society. If the government requires the Gardasil vaccine upon entrance into college, is it limiting the freedom of women to make a medical decision based on their own morals? Or would our nation be allowing another generation of women to suffer when we have the means to almost wipe out a disease? After all, who should decide what medical actions will be taken in order to protect ourselves? The threat of cancer and the nature of one’s decisions makes the Gardasil vaccine much more than just a shot.[spider]
It has been a long road for women to gain the right to make their own sexual decisions. The debate over the mandatory inoculation of women against HPV has raised a whole new set of issues over the extent to which women should be in control of their own sexual lives. This year’s incoming freshmen class is the first class to have the HPV vaccine recommended upon admittance to college. Some girls, however, opted out of the shot. “I didn’t get (the shot) because I don’t have a reason to,” said no-preference freshman Christina Buffa.
A major issue among those who chose not to take the recommended shot was the implied sexual activity. “I thought the shot sounded like a good idea if you are sexually active with multiple partners, but that’s just not me,” said advertising freshman Marie Koziel. To some, it appears the vaccine itself sends a definite message about one’s sexual past and future — a message that condones sexual experimentation.
For some of those that chose to get the shot, a history of cancer played a prime role in their decision. “My mother had cervical cysts. I have a history so I thought if I could do anything to prevent dealing with cancer, I would,” said dietetics freshman Samantha Warsh.
[warsh]In a nation where half of all people will eventually deal with some form of cancer, any action would seem necessary. It seems the very threat of cancer is enough to make people take action. “I just wanted a lesser chance of dealing with it in the future,” said German freshman Erin Maye. Cancer has become the boogeyman of diseases in the 21st century, and its prevalence played a huge role in Gardasil’s wide advertising campaign. The now-famous “One-less” campaign has contributed immensely to popular knowledge of the disease and the vaccine. According to Julie Becker, an advertising and graphic design junior, the advertising world is “making a very strong effort to raise awareness of HPV.”
In a media-based world, advertising has influenced the sexual decisions of our generation. Maye was truly affected by the advertising. “I think the commercials influenced me to get the shot and also (introduced) the thought of becoming sexually active,” she said.
Although high school and college sexual education programs mention the risk of HPV, it definitely isn’t one of the diseases that is highlighted. “I wasn’t aware of the risk of HPV until the shot and the commercials came out. They mentioned it at school but that didn’t stress it,” said no-preference freshman Melissa Dams. The lack of information on such a prevalent STI stems from the fact that most people thought the infection had no consequences. “Most, not all, but most abnormal Pap smears are caused by the presence of HPV,” said Kohlruss. “Granted, there are (more than) a hundred different strains of HPV. About 30 to 40 of those strains affect that anal-genital area. Of those 30-40 strains, 15-20 strains potentially cause cancer.”
The short-term side effects of the shot include soreness, redness, itching and pain. The long-term side effects at this point are unknown. The potential positive effects vastly outweighed the ethical question of Gardasil, according to Kohlruss. “Nobody should be dying of cervical cancer. I think the HPV vaccine is of benefit to all girls. We don’t always know what our plans are for tomorrow,” said Kohlruss.
The final factor in the Gardasil vaccine debate comes down to the importance of moral factors in the decision-making process. Al Weilbaecher, the director of formation and family ministry at St. John’s Student Parish, was able to offer one religious view. “People don’t have the license to reject God’s gift of life. One must protect themselves and those around them from a disease,” he said. “It is morally irresponsible to go out and impact someone with a disease.” This system of thought stresses responsibility on the part of the decision-maker.
While many think their decision about the vaccine has no impact on their behavior at all, some people feel getting the vaccine makes them more cautious rather than less. “(Gardasil) didn’t affect my behavior at all. I’m making the same decisions now that I did before I got the shot. If anything, it has made me think more about my decisions,” said Dams. [shot3]
With so many opposing viewpoints, the so-called morality debate rages on. This discussion probably would not have such a wide audience if HPV was not sexually transmitted. Is the possibility of dealing with cervical cancer more appealing than getting a shot? The debate itself extends far beyond a basic question of whether to get a vaccination. It becomes more of an argument centered on the right to make one’s own decisions.
Another estimated 3,700 women will die this year from cervical cancer. They were exposed to HPV before anyone was able to benefit from a possible solution. We now have the information and cure that could have saved their lives with the Gardasil vaccine. In an age where women benefit from far more sexual freedom than ever before, the debate over whether or not women are responsible enough to make their own decisions still continues. Although this debate has spurred many questions, the personal choice of whether to get the Gardasil vaccine remains the most crucial one of all.

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