by Jennifer Shakeel
As nurse I my first reaction is yes, this is a vaccine that I believe all young females should get. As a mother, I can understand the hesitation that many mothers have over getting their daughter vaccinated. I will say for the record that my oldest daughter did get the vaccination, and it was a decision that she and I made together.
I am going to address this issue as a both a nurse and a mother, why, because it is important. First, let’s start with what the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil does. The vaccine will help protect women from a variety of ailments, ranging from minor to serious. The most talked about is cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. Understand that there are 100’s of different HPV strands, and they are responsible for everything from cold sores, to warts to yes cervical cancer.
The vaccine is designed for adolescent girls, and what is causing many parents to pause is the fact that what the vaccine protects them against is a sexually transmitted disease. There it is… sex. That is the name of the battle that goes on in every parents head. We don’t want our children to have sex until they are an adult, many parents don’t know how to talk to their children about sex, and many believe that if you talk about it then they are encouraging their children to do it.
This is where I am going to step in as a nurse. I am going to give you a small reality check here. I worked at Planned Parenthood, which I feel is a wonderful organization for what it provides girls and women. Now, as a nurse there I have seen things that would make your stomach turn. I have educated children on sex… often after it is too late, I have had to school young adults about sex and I have even talked to parents to try to get them to understand the importance of talking to their kids about sex.
So let me dispel this myth right now, talking to your children about sex will not make them go out and have sex. As a matter of fact, you may actually stop them from having sex until they are mature enough to understand the consequences. I lost track of the number of young girls and young women that would come into my office to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases or to get birth control because they had nowhere else to go. I can not tell you how many times I asked them if they could talk to their parents and the answer was no, and then I would ask if I could talk to their parents and the answer was, “NO! They don’t know I am sexually active.”
Children are curious; we live in a very sexual society. Take a look at the ads on billboards and the commercials on television… take a listen to the lyrics of the music your children listen to. It is only natural for them to be curious. If they can’t come to their parents where they are going to get better information then what they are getting from their friends… I know that it is hard and scary. I have given THE talk to children of my friends because they just couldn’t.
You should also understand that HPV is the common cold of sexually active people. People can carry the virus and not even know that they have it. Which means that they can spread it and not even realize it. It only takes one exposure, so it only takes having sex once with an infected person and you have it. Consider the HPV vaccine then your vitamin C against cervical cancer.
Now as a mother, thankfully I have always had an open relationship with my children. We have had THE talk numerous times in their lives, always making sure that they understood what I was saying based on the ages they were at the time. Yes, they got out my anatomy books from nursing school, which doesn’t use cartoon pictures… which lead to a number of explanations about the body… about their body. So when it came to getting the vaccine I let my daughter decide what she wanted to do.
I explained to her what it was and why I felt it was something that she should get. I think what the boost was, as funny as it is, she wanted to be a part of the one less campaign. So she went through the series of three shots. Yes, she will tell you that the shot did hurt, and that it hurt for the rest of the day. But she will also tell you that she has taken the steps to make sure that she is protected against cervical cancer.
Is she sexually active? No she isn’t. Would she tell me if she was? Yes, she would tell me. I have stressed the importance of waiting until she is mature enough and that her life is the way she wants it because having a baby changes everything. I have also stressed that it only takes having sex ONE time to get pregnant. I think making it her decision was important. It is her body.
As with any vaccine, make sure you discuss this, the benefits, and side affects, with your health care provider. What you as a parent need to remember is this. It is a vaccine, just like the chicken pox vaccine the mumps and measles vaccine and the hepatitis vaccine. Why do you get those for your children? You get them to keep them healthy and safe… not just as children but as adults as well. The HPV vaccine isn’t a vaccine that only protects them while they are young. It protects them for life. Don’t make the HPV vaccine about sex. Make it about lifelong protection for your daughter.
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse with over 12 years medical experience. As a mother of two incredible children with one on the way, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting and the joys and changes that take place during pregnancy. Together we can laugh and cry and rejoice in the fact that we are moms!
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