The prevention question: Vaccination decisions can weigh heavily on parents
FARGO - Nick Olson would have no qualms about vaccinating his child against human papillomavirus. "Vaccines prevent diseases, plain and simple," says the father-to-be, formerly of Fargo-Moorhead. However, the decision doesn't come as easily for a...
FARGO - Nick Olson would have no qualms about vaccinating his child against human papillomavirus.
"Vaccines prevent diseases, plain and simple," says the father-to-be, formerly of Fargo-Moorhead.
However, the decision doesn't come as easily for all parents.
Nurse practitioner Audrey Eckes says Merck's Gardasil protects against 90 percent of the HPV that causes warts and 70 percent of cervical cancers.
Even so, because it involves the cervix and sexual behavior, some tie the vaccine to morality, says the women's health care specialist with Fargo Cass Public Health.
"If we had a vaccine against lung cancer, everybody would want it," she says.
Types and talks
There are actually two HPV vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix.
Gardasil helps prevent cervical cancer and precancers caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18; Cervarix, types 16 and 18.
Dr. Stefanie Gefroh-Ellison says strains 6 and 11 are associated with genital warts, 16 and 18 with cervical cancer.
When the vaccine first came out, "It was uncomfortable for parents to think about vaccinating a child for something that is associated with intimate contact," the Essentia Health ob-gyn says.
She says parents are now more willing to consider it, and most of the younger women she sees in her practice have already been vaccinated.
Sanford ob-gyn Dr. Jon Dangerfield says the three-shot series should always be paired with safe-sex education.
"You need to have those conversations with your children - both boys and girls," he says.
The vaccine only protects against certain strains of one of the many sexually transmitted diseases.
It's not a "license to have sex," says Renee Haseman of Brandon, Minn.
The 26-year-old nurse wants parents to view it rather as a means to protect their children's reproductive health.
"I've seen girls as young as 16 require a LEEP procedure in which part of their cervix is removed," she says.
Benefits and concerns
Gardasil is approved for females and males ages 9 to 26; Cervarix for girls and young women ages 9 to 25.
"Ideally, you want to vaccinate children before they become sexually active," nurse practitioner Eckes says.
Would it benefit a 28-year-old who's never had sex? Probably, she says.
But Eckes says currently, "we're not allowed to vaccinate outside federal recommendations."
The health care providers interviewed for this story say they've seen very little side effects from the vaccine.
However, they acknowledge that it's fairly new. "There are still some unanswered questions," Dangerfield says.
Gardasil re-emerged on the national news front in September 2011 when then Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann criticized fellow candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his executive order to require the vaccine.
The order was later turned over by the state's legislature.
JaDean Anderson of Fargo says she wouldn't vaccinate her children because of reports of adverse reactions, including deaths of young girls.
"I really wish no one would," says the mother of a 3-year-old daughter.
Meanwhile, Danette Schmid of Carrington, N.D., has encouraged her adult daughters to consider the vaccine, and her 12-year-old son started the series last year.
"I understand parents' concern about risks, but we take a risk each time we give our children any medication, including Tylenol," says Schmid, a public health nurse.