It says a lot about our society that the development of a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus has been greeted with controversy rather than appreciation. It is absurd that a treatment that has been shown to be effective in the prevention of cervical cancer is being interfered with out of misguided concerns that it will increase the incidence of teenage sex. It seems unlikely that many young woman make their decision about whether or not to engage in sexual activity with the possibility of HPV-induced cervical cancer as a major consideration. (If they do, there are plenty of other STIs to give them pause.) Even if it could be documented that a vaccination program would increase teenage sexual activity to some appreciable degree, a very strong argument can be made that preventing the pain and death associated with cervical cancer is an outcome of sufficient importance to justify the choice to vaccinate. Furthermore, the overall response smacks of sexual double standards. If this were a vaccine that had a strong preventative capacity for both men and women, it seems unlikely that there would be so much furore about its administration.
The tactic of trying to alter the decision-making of teenagers through the reduced availability of life-saving medicines is hardly a behaviour that should be promoted or tolerated. The Globe and Mail gets it essentially right in a recent article, arguing that the purpose of a public health system is: “seizing opportunities to avoid needless death, to improve quality of life when we can and to extend it wherever and whenever we can.” Hopefully, the political opposition surrounding HPV vaccination will be overcome, and the procedure will become as routine as vaccination against Measles or Hepatitis B (itself largely transmitted through unprotected sex).