Why I’ll Vaccinate My Daughter against Cervical Cancer

vaccinationThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that children are less likely to receive cervical cancer vaccine than any other recommended childhood vaccine.  A CDC spokesperson suggests that the problem might be related to the fact that it is newer and therefore less familiar than other vaccines.  Also, it is administered during the teen years and teens tend to have fewer medical check-ups than infants.

In my dealings as a public health professional, I have heard people bring up another barrier that the CDC spokesperson did not mention.  Cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease.  Some people would prefer not to protect teens from the consequences of sexual activity.

I believe in natural, behavioral prevention strategies.  I will teach my daughter that she can help prevent many health and emotional issues by compliance with the law of chastity.  However, I will also vaccinate her to help prevent her from getting HPV and cervical cancer.  Here is why I have made this choice:

I will try to keep my daughter safe, but someday she might be raped.  I cannot prevent the physical and emotional pain that would result from such a violation but I can help protect her from getting cervical cancer as a result of that rape.

I will encourage her to look for a mate who promises to be faithful to her, but her husband could cheat on her anyway.  I can’t save her from heartbreak but I can help prevent her husband from causing her to get cervical cancer.

I will teach her to be abstinent from sexual activity until she marries, but in a passionate moment, she might make a mistake.  I believe that sincere repentance will be enough penance for her sins; she does not need to pay for the sins of youth by suffering with cervical cancer.

I will teach her my values, but she may choose a different path.  I cannot take away her agency to make her own choices about her sexuality.  No matter what choices she makes, I will never stop loving her and never wish her harm.  I could never be sorry that I helped protect her from cervical cancer.

Reference: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2011/08/Many-teens-miss-out-on-life-saving-vaccines/49868088/1

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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42 Responses

  1. Jessawhy says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Jessawhy says:

    I also wanted to add that I was disappointed to learn that girls were the only ones recommended to get this vaccine originally. I’ve heard that boys are now recommended, but the fact is that boys are the vectors but girls are the ones who are most affected by the virus and then the cancer.

    I plan to have my 3 sons vaccinated as an important public health issue.

    • April says:

      Good for you! Yes, the vaccine is now approved by the FDA for boys, but unfortunately, the CDC has still not added it to the boys’ vaccine schedule.

    • Amberdawn says:

      I don’t have any daughters, but this topic is very important to me. Thanks for pointing out that this is a vaccination boys should get. I live in Texas. So you know my pediatrician probably won’t bring it up.

  3. Beautifully written, April!

    (BTW Both my daughters have been vaccinated.)

  4. lanwenyi says:

    I respect your decision and your feelings. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Until recently, I’d never heard of this reason for not giving the HPV vaccine, but I had heard many others. However, this recently came up in my ward and I was surprised to hear the number of women who felt that since their daughter “won’t do that until she gets married” so “she doesn’t need it”, as well as the number that said, “well, if she does something dumb, she needs to live with the consequences. If I let her get that vaccine, then I’m telling her to go ahead and be sexually active”. I don’t agree with either mentality. While I do support the right to choose for ourselves when and what vaccines to give, I don’t understand these mentalities.

    My reason for skipping it has to do with its side effects profile. We selective/delay vaccinate due to previous reactions to vaccines. I can’t imagine skipping it in order to “teach her a lesson” nor to bury my head in the sand.

    Hopefully, by the time my daughter is of age to get that vax (she’ll turn 4 next week), I’ll have more info and will feel that the HPV vaccine is safe to give. Until then, I stand by my decision to be a selective/delayed vaccinator.

    • Mike H. says:

      …Well, if she does something dumb, she needs to live with the consequences.

      So, if she contracted an STD from premarital sex, that can be cured by antibiotics, would that person who said that skip having her treated for it, as a punishment? And, withholding treatment for such could be easily construed as child neglect, subject to have CPS step in.

      Plus, there’s plenty of rapist around, everywhere.

  5. spunky says:

    Great thoughts, April!

    I don’t have issues with vaccination, but as this is administered during teen years, I like the idea of giving teens a choice to be vaccinated or not, and being open with what causes the cancer and how the virus is transmitted.

    If there are improvements in the vaccination and it can be given as an infant, I wouldn’t hesitate to have it administered and I like the idea of a cancer-vaccine, so I hope it gets more attention, who knows? Maybe it is the first step to other vaccinations against cancer. That would be nice.

    • See, that’s where I’ve always been confused about this. Its not a cancer vaccine, but a vaccine for an STD that can cause cancer. I’d think having regular check ups would be a better idea, since your GYN is checking for more than one thing.

      From the US National Library of Medicine:

      Cervical cancer usually develops very slowly. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. This precancerous condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular Pap smears. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap smear results.

      Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer. (Other strains may cause genital warts, while others do not cause any problems at all.)

      I really don’t know. I’d have to do a lot more research (thankfully my only daughter is 3, so I have time). Here’s some info from The Cervicel Cancer Campaign

      HPV is a family of very common viruses that cause almost all cervical cancers, plus a variety of other problems like common warts, genital warts and plantar warts. HPV also causes cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, skin, and cancers of the head and neck.
      The most common cancer-causing types of the virus are 16 and 18. This is important to know because these two types alone cause about 70% of all cervical cancer. The current cervical cancer vaccines protect nearly 100% against these two types of HPV when given in the full three dose series, on time, and in the routinely recommended age groups.
      There are over 35 known different HPV types that infect the genital tract and at least 15 of these can lead to cervical cancer. The vaccines do not protect against all of these types. This is why you need to continue to get screening which includes a Pap test.

      Having seen the effects of various cancers in my family, I’m glad they have traced the cause of one, but I worry that the PR for this vaccine can cause a false complacency.

    • April says:

      Spunky, I think you bring up a good point about involving the teen in the decision.

      With regards to other cancer vaccines, there are others in trial now in the U.S., and just yesterday, a vaccine for prostate cancer was approved here. However, the prostate cancer vaccine is used for treatment, not prevention, so it is different in purpose from what we are used to thinking of when we talk about vaccination.

  6. Naismith says:

    It also is very painful and has a strange schedule of followup shots. This also causes some girls not to be immunized.

    Since the CDC was only recommending for girls, most insurance won’t pay for males to have it. And it us pricey without insurance. I works with oral cancer for some years, and there is a trend of young males getting HPV-related cancers of the mouth and throat, perhaps due to oral sex.

    • Alisa says:

      As a complete coincidence, I just got this vaccine today, even though I am older than the recommended age. It stung slightly while going in, but my tetanus/pertussis booster in the other arm is by far the more painful as as the day is closing. So I wouldn’t say it is very painful, just slightly stingy on the way in with little or no tenderness afterward in my experience, and much less painful than a tetanus booster or a blood draw.

  7. Corktree says:

    I understand and respect your choice to protect your daughter from what you see as future harmful situations she may be placed in, April, but I’m going to have to speak up as someone who doesn’t think that a mass marketed vaccine with harmful side effects and a very under-tested safety record (not to mention an unacceptable death toll) is the answer to these concerns.

    I love my daughters and want to protect them too, but I will not be getting them this vaccine.

    • April says:

      While I do not agree with your conclusions, I do agree that it is important to learn about the side effects of any medical treatment and I respect your right to make decisions for your family as well. There is information about investigations related to these vaccines here: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/HPV/gardasil.html

      • Corktree says:

        Thanks April, I’ve read that and other data. I hope it’s clear that my decision is based on my own medical views of vaccines and cancer in general and not in any way related to the idea that I don’t think my children need protection from STDs. I do appreciate that your post addresses not turning a blind eye to the possibility of our children being exposed to things we don’t necessarily want to imagine – I just don’t think there is a single medical answer to this problem.

    • TopHat says:

      I’m in Corktree’s boat as well. I have heard about some terrible side effects and for me, the vaccine is still very new. I’m glad my daughter is only 3 and there is a decade of studies and medical trials ahead of us before we need to make this decision. I don’t want my kids to be guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry.

    • Kmillecam says:

      I’m another that is extremely skeptical of mass-marketed vaccines. Especially when large pharmaceautical companies are more interested in the bottom line than our individual, personal health.

      But regardless of my reasons why, I also believe that the older you are when you get a vaccine, the better. So I do I decide that my boys should have the vaccination, it won’t be for several years when they are a) old enough to make their own bodily decisions, and b) there has been more testing about the side effects of such a vaccine.

  8. BethSmash says:

    At Segullah a little while ago they had a post on this – which was based on the gut reaction of the poster. The poster went to Doctor with her daughter and they were talking about vaccination and the doctor mentioned this one. The poster’s initial gut reaction was that by allowing her daughter to get this vaccination she was promoting sexual activity. While MY gut reaction was you’re preventing your daughter from getting cervical cancer. I was surprised (although I probably shouldn’t be) by the number of responses to that post that fit in with what lanwenyi said happened in her ward.

    she “won’t do that until she gets married” so “she doesn’t need it”, as well as the number that said, “well, if she does something dumb, she needs to live with the consequences.

    And can I say that second one is HARSH. Not only does your daughter (if she made a mistake – by having sex without protection) need to worry about pregnancy, and your regular fear inducing, and possible life threatening STDs, but NOW she has to worry about cancer. Also… cancer is expensive. And if your daughter is on your insurance and she gets cancer, guess whose insurance rates are going up. So really – Prevention is GOOD!!!

    Anyway… here’s the link the to Segullah post:

    April, I agree with you though and loved your post. I like how you suggest reasons why you might need it, even if you aren’t sexually active and don’t plan on being sexually active until marriage.

  9. Caroline says:

    April, I lean towards your way of thinking on this. If the vaccine proves to be safe for the next 10 years, I’ll definitely opt for this for my daughter (and son, if that’s possible.) So many young people engage in premarital sex — even if my daughter does not, there would be a good chance that her future husband has, and I would want her protected in either (or all) scenarios.

    I can’t imagine a parent not vaccinating their child because of a ‘let them reap what they sow’ mind frame. Boggles the mind.

  10. Alisa says:

    Many monogamous Mormon women married to monogamous Mormon men, married as virgins, have had abnormal pap smears and some have had cervical cancer, which is almost exclusively from HPV. Guardasil can prevent this. As my CNM said today, HPV has got to be caused by some other factors besides just full on sex with an infected person. A very chaste woman married to a former bishop in my family developed cervical cancer cells, and this vaccine, had it been developed years earlier, could have prevented that.

    That’s why I chose today to be vaccinated against it. I am over thirty and married and have not been exposed as far as I know unlike most women my age, but I do not want to be one of those monogamous Mormon women who gets cervical cancer.

  11. Hillary says:

    I had my first pap and exam right before I got married, and when I returned from my honeymoon, my doctor informed me that I had some abnormal cervical cells which may or may not have been caused by HPV (I was negative when tested afterward). As a newlywed 20-year-old, I was afraid and devastated, as if I was somehow being branded dirty and promiscuous (when I obviously wasn’t). If there had been a vaccine at the time to prevent me from enduring not only those humiliating feelings, but also the treatment that followed to remove the cells, I would have been thrilled and grateful. My younger sister had the vaccine, and my kids will too.

  12. jks says:

    My older daughter has been vaccinated. My younger daughter will be. Even if I know for sure that they will live the law of chastity, the following scenarios are more likely than the side effects:
    1. She is raped.
    2. She marries a wonderful man who will remain faithful to her and love her, however, he has had sexual contact before marriage unknowingly passes on HPV that causes cancer.

    I have to wonder how many LDS women willingly have a pap smear (the main reason for pap smears is to detect cancer caused by HPV) but refuse the vaccine for their daughters? I think they are under-educated about what pap smears are for, and under-educated about the scenarios of who can benefit from the vaccine.

  13. alex w. says:

    I think the viewpoint of “getting what you deserve for not following the rules” — not only with HPV but other unfortunate consequences or injuries — is absolutely heartbreaking. I hear it more than I wish I did, and am happy to see someone speak out against ot. Personally, I got the vaccine 4 or 5 years ago, along with other shots before going to college. I have only been with my husband, as was my intention, but i’m still glad I did it.

  14. Mike H. says:

    I have mixed feelings. Gardasil has had problems:


    On the other hand, do we *know* that 100% of HPV is spread only by sexual contact? Can it be spread with blood transfusions, like HIV or Hepatitis C? Until we know for sure, just telling people “to be chaste” won’t be a solution to HPV.

    • April says:

      In answer to your question, HPV can also be spread skin-to-skin or from a pregnant woman to her baby.

      People who are concerned about Gardasil, specifically, but still interested in vaccination, may consider Cervarix, a different kind of HPV/cervical cancer vaccine.

      Since this is not a health issues forum, I will not elaborate my professional opinion of the citation provided, but I recommend that people look into other reputable sources, or speak with a trained professional, before trusting the stats provided in articles such as this one.

  15. E says:

    Please do not rely on pseudoscience and anti-vaccine activists for information about the HPV vaccine. Reliable sources of information include the CDC website and the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia vaccine information website.

    • Corktree says:

      Please don’t imply that anyone who is not pro-vaccine is relying on pseudoscience, or that people who speak out against them are incapable of understanding “real” science and being just as educated as those hired by the CDC and other organizations that are benefited by the very companies that make the vaccines.

      • Alisa says:

        Corktree, I would be interested in hearing how the CDC or its employees directly benefit from drug companies that make vaccines. I am legitimately interested in learning about conflicts of interest in our government agencies since I rely on the CDC and VEARS for accurate information.

      • Corktree says:

        Alisa, although I have my own reasons to distrust the CDC as always having pure intentions in the information it disseminates as absolute science, I misspoke in directly connecting it in my sentence. I do, however view the Vaccine Injury Act, created by Congress to remove the liability of vaccine producers, as a conflict of interest, and I tend to lump government together as something that doesn’t receive my trust in something until it has earned it. I have a hard time believing that companies like Merck did not and do not influence the creation of protections that insure their profits, but do not ultimately guarantee that they are held to a viable standard of vaccine safety and ethical practice, as the Act was hoped to produce, but has not been able to follow through on, as detailed here


        So my concerns lie with Merck specifically in this case and the power it wields over organizations (including government agencies) and the fact that it has a limited amount of time to secure its monopoly on HPV specifically before, as April points out, GSK gets their own vaccine approved. And I distrust their ways of doing this, i.e. pushing for mandated programs for adolescent girls in different states for Gardasil, and using cancer as an emotional and manipulative trigger to push parents into vaccinating their children without considering the consequences or that there may be other avenues for prevention and protection (not implying abstinence!) or simply viewing HPV with more skepticism as the only risk factor for cervical cancer.

        On a personal note, I had an abnormal pap smear that was due to HPV after the birth of my 2nd child, and I chose not to pursue action on it because I was healthy and had no symptoms. I still am and still don’t. I dislike and distrust fear tactics that companies use to make money off of one of our most vulnerable areas of choice.

        I don’t like current vaccination recommendations or vaccine production practices, nor do I think we understand the world of viruses and bacteria enough to eradicate everything without consequence, but that doesn’t mean I am completely against the concept of passive immunity for the most virulent of diseases, I just think not enough research is being done on the method of delivery and the type of immune response that is required by an injection.

        But this is secondary to my concerns about Merck and Gardasil. I just don’t trust them and I don’t see a reason to trust the CDC explicitly and not others.

      • Kmillecam says:

        Oh there’s so much to like in Corktree’s comment. Especially this:
        “…using cancer as an emotional and manipulative trigger to push parents into vaccinating their children without considering the consequences or that there may be other avenues for prevention and protection (not implying abstinence!) or simply viewing HPV with more skepticism as the only risk factor for cervical cancer.”

        We are afraid our sons and daughters will die of cancer or whooping cough or whatever, and so we take the risk of giving them a vaccine which may or may not have side effects. And since the majority of people getting vaccinated do not see side effects, or at least do not see immediate side effects, we tend to dismiss the very real group of people who ARE, in fact, direly affected by vaccination side effects. And then when anyone questions the status quo (get vaccinated), we tend to call their ethics into question based on more fear-based rhetoric: do you want unvaccinated Sally in your child’s class to spread disease and death? Well, that’s a pretty loaded question, but all too common when someone decides not to vaccinate their child.

        My youngest has had a slew of health problems, and the best thing I ever did was slow his vaccination schedule waaaaay down. He’ll get vaccinated, eventually. When his immune system can handle it, and it’s not dealing with all the things he has going on already.

        I also agree with Corktree on the explicit trust of the CDC vs. the mistrust of other sources. Why? I’d like to see the evidence there.

        And finally, I completely agree that our general understanding and perspective of viruses and bacteria is seriously flawed. We evolved to have healthy, strong immune systems. Perhaps taking a look at that would be more beneficial than the sometimes-Band-Aid approach we use with vaccines.

    • Kmillecam says:

      It’s easy to smear anyone who doesn’t get regular vaccines as a person relying on pseudoscience or anti-vaccine activists. But there is another option: that getting ALL vaccines and getting NO vaccines are not the only options here. This is not an either/or situation. I happen to fall in the middle of the spectrum, and I respect other people at other parts of that spectrum.

      I also have to question how you know that the CDC website is reliable.

    • Alisa says:

      I am legitimately interested in the arguments of those who distrust the vaccination and pharma industry, and those who feel vaccination injury is under-reported. However, I feel that we’re veering off topic, especially since we’re not talking about this particular vaccine in specific, but now we seem to be having the general vaccine debate, which I don’t think is the point of the post.

      • Corktree says:

        I agree that it shouldn’t devolve completely into a vaccination argument, but April did use this vaccine specifically to make her point in the post and used this platform to express her views on vaccines and the CDC in the comments. I think it only responsible to present the flipside of her perspective as also valid and rational. This wasn’t just about whether or not we should protect our children from the unknown or not and whether or not they will be exposed to such things or not, though I think that is a valid discussion as well.

      • Kmillecam says:

        I think it’s really hard to have a conversation about one vaccine without having the general vaccine debate. But at the same time, I’m not too keen on having the general vaccine debate here either. I feel like I’ve said my piece, and that’s good enough for me.

  16. S says:

    This vaccine only covers a few strains of HPV while there are many more out there. I will be looking for more evidence that this vaccine is effective before I ever give it to any of my children. They would have to prove that cervical cancer is going down significantly for this vaccine to be worth while. Only about 12 to 13 thousand women get cervical cancer a year in the US. I don’t find that to be a high number like other cancers, (breast is over 200,000). I wish this money went in to provide all women pap smears every year than the vaccine.

    Vaccine injuries are real and those that suffer from them aren’t crazy.

    Here is a scary tidbit from that committee meeting, “Today there have been 84 deaths and over 20,000 severe side effects documented in our government VAERS system, and now Gardasil makes up more than 65 percent of the entire VAERS database.”

    • April says:


      I agree with you that vaccine injuries are real. I also agree that it is important to weigh risks and benefits when making any choice regarding a medical treatment and that people should not accept the treatment if its risks are unacceptable to them, but the risks of foregoing the treatment are acceptable to them.

      I also think it is important to avoid misleading sources. The “scary tidbit” you quote did come from that meeting, but it came from a representative of an anti-vaccine lobbying group. Also, in an early comment, I referenced the actual VAERS system, which is accessible to anyone via Internet, and the actual data clearly contradict the numbers and stats given in this testimonial.

  17. Lauren says:

    The Gardasil vaccine upsets me for a couple reasons. As a vaccine against an STD, it is a complete waste of time. What good does a vaccine for one STD do for you when there are so many other STD’s that can result from unprotected sex? As a cancer preventative, it seems almost just as useless. The vaccine doesn’t wholly protect you from strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer. I will not be vaccinating my daughter with Gardasil, and that has nothing to do with feeling like it could possibly condone premarital sex or feeling like it will take away consequences deserved for breaking chastity laws. It has everything to do with the risks of the vaccine combined with the fact that it does not actually keep her safe from STD’s or cancer. Too much risk for not nearly enough reward.

    • Genevieve says:

      I agree with Lauren. It IS important to do a risk/benefit analysis, but on this one, risk is clearly higher. A collection of references as well as anecdotes can be found here: http://guggiedaly.blogspot.com/2011/01/gardasil-girl.html

      I’d like to note that many of the references are directly from the CDC. I also do not trust the company that makes this vaccine. I researched vaccines and the disease they are supposed to prevent heavily during my pregnancy and prayerfully decided to not vaccinate. I’d like to point out that I refused to take any research that was based on fear-mongering for either side of the debate. For instance, Dr. Tenpenny was NOT a part of my decision AT ALL.

      I’m glad people care about their daughters, and I sincerely hope you find a better way to protect them than injecting them with questionable chemicals that have already caused so much damage to so many young girls.

  18. Teedub says:

    “I really felt that I needed to comment today. This is a pretty important issue that must be addressed consciously and with a louder, stronger point of educating people to the dangers of vaccines.

    THIS particular vaccine is at the top of the list of bad vaccines. As a grandmother I am very concerned with this new vaccine. If this vaccine prevents just 4 out of more than 100 strains of HPV; all of which your body can clear up on its own in 90 percent of all cases anyway, how could this be acceptable when the risks have proven to be fairly high with serious consequences!
    Please…. follow the money!
    Mandatory vaccination would be a windfall profit for Merck. If all of the 34 million US girls and women in this target age range (9 to 26) got the HPV vaccine, which costs $360 for the three-shot series, Merck will stand to rake in more than $12 billion!
    This vaccine is touted as being 100 percent effective against two strains of HPV associated with about 70 percent of diagnosed cases of cervical cancer. However, according to a study published in the February 28, 2007, issue of JAMA, only 2 percent of American women carry these two strains.
    Most women exposed to HPV are able to fight it off naturally; only a very small percentage develop problems. There is no evidence that the majority of women will receive any benefit from this vaccine.
    AND one of the lead researchers, Diane Harper, for the development of the human papilloma virus vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix came clean and became a whistle blower about the ineffectiveness of the vaccine.
    Dr. Harper claimed that she was speaking out, so that she might finally be able to sleep at night.
    “About eight in every ten women who have been sexually active will have H.P.V. at some stage of their life. Normally there are no symptoms, and in 98 per cent of cases it clears itself. But in those cases where it doesn’t, and isn’t treated, it can lead to pre-cancerous cells which may develop into cervical cancer.”
    – Dr. Diane Harper

    And watch this video… this is just ONE of many girls whose lives changed dramatically after this vaccine.


    Would you really take this kind of chance with your daughter or grand daughter?
    A healthy immune system is the best defense.

  19. Dionesia says:

    It’s every parent’s consideration to attain and ensure their children’s safety and welfare. This must be the reason why parent’s had this certain urge to submit their child to every test and plausibly have a vaccine that might as well make them safe for there’s no way that you can stop then engaging to something like sex and even had vices.

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