Friday, 1 June 2007

The case for vaccinating girls against HPV

A new study published in the Lancet today has strengthened the already convincing evidence that vaccinating girls and young women against the human papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer is important. The combined results of four trials across the world show the vaccine is 99% effective for girls who have never had sex.

So, we have a vaccine that saves lives. This vaccine is a major scientific breakthrough and it is much more effective if we vaccinate young women before they become sexually active. No arguments then - ensuring universal access to the vaccination is scientifically and morally the right thing to do. My guess is most people would agree. Despite this there is a minority voice that argues vaccinating children is likely to encourage earlier sexual activity. This assertion is no more rooted in fact or evidence than the well refuted claim that sex and relationships education does the same.

Like sex and relationships education however, the vaccination is not a universal panacea. It must be administered in a macro and micro cultural context where emotional literacy and competence is developed, sex and relationships are talked about honestly; where young people learn that trust within relationships is important and they have rights to make choices about the sex they do or don’t choose to have.

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