On Friday, February 9th, the DC City Council will begin hearings on whether to mandate the HPV vaccine for females in the District under the age of 13. This piece of legislation is crucial to the health and well-being of the District and the future of its citizens. Washington, DC’s City Council is one of eighteen legislative bodies — including the state legislatures of Michigan, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Maryland — to address the problem of HPV through mandatory vaccination.
HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, infects at least 80 percent of sexually active women by age 50. According to the American Medical Women’s Association, cervical is the second-most-common cancer killer of women worldwide, and HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. And The ISIS Project reports African American women are 50% more likely to get cervical cancer than white women.
The vaccine, Gardasil, prevents 70% of the cancer-causing strains of HPV, effectively reducing the chances of developing cervical cancer. This means that girls who get the vaccine before becoming sexually active are much less likely to get cervical cancer than girls who do not receive the vaccine. Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company that makes Gardasil, is financially supporting the lobbying efforts through contributions to Women in Government to help pass the legislative mandates.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, cervical cancer was diagnosed in 9,700 women, and 3,700 died of the disease. The national incidence rate is 8.8 per 100,000 females; the District’s rate is more than 50 percent higher, at 13.5 per 100,000. African-American women have the highest death rate of any group.
The vaccine costs about $360, or $120 a dose. Not all private insurance plans pay for the vaccine, although it is provided without charge through public programs for low-income, uninsured and under-insured children, and more insurance plans are starting to cover it.
This information legislative activity is incredibly exciting for women throughout the nation. I do not think we could possibly downplay the importance or the implications of such a mandate. The fact that we can prevent the majority of cervical cancer cases with a single vaccine is amazing news for women’s health.
It disappoints me, as an educated and healthy woman that people move this issue from women’s health, where it belongs, into the realm of sexual activity among youth. There is no evidence suggesting that this vaccine causes young girls to become more sexually active. This outrageous theory was created by those who want others to view the mandate as an issue of sex education and not health, effectively dismissing the well-being of millions of young girls for political purposes. This has nothing to do with sexual education and everything to do with preventing the main cause of cervical cancer.
As a young woman, as a future mother (possibly of girls), and as someone who is aware of the health risks regarding cervical cancer, I urge you to research HPV and the vaccine and make your own decisions about the benefits, then contact your local legislators and urge them to legislate for women’s health. We owe it to our daughters and to our future to do all we can to eliminate cervical cancer in the nation. Cervical cancer is preventable, and that should be our goal.
– Elisabeth Crum