HPV vaccine: When opportunity knocks, answer

December 8, 2016


 Over the last eight years, I’ve captured stories of children and families affected by vaccine-preventable diseases, many of which I’ve shared on this blog. Families like the Lastinger’s who lost their 4-year-old daughter, Emily, to influenza. Or the Throgmorton’s who lost their newborn daughter, Haleigh, to pertussis. Most recently, I’ve had the unique opportunity to capture the stories of men and women affected by human papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV-related cancers. This time, I met adult men and women, most of whom are parents or grandparents, who were affected by a vaccine-preventable disease for which we now have a vaccine. In other words, nearly all of these mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers are facing the long-term side effects of a disease for which they never had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

To these brave men and women, some of whom continue to fight for their lives, today’s adolescents and their parents have an incredible opportunity to prevent ever experiencing the devastating impact of HPV. Sadly, however, many of these parents are letting this opportunity pass right by them by declining the HPV vaccine for their adolescent.

As a mother of two (soon to be three) young children living in a small, conservative suburb of Houston, I hear all of the reasons fellow parents and peers choose not to vaccinate against HPV and justify why their children don’t need it. I appreciate where these parents are coming from as I share many of their values and beliefs; however, when it comes to HPV, they are making a huge miscalculation and are simply mistaken.

Here’s the thing – all of the misinformation and erroneous beliefs fail to take into account the most important factor when discussing HPV. That is, HPV is ubiquitous in our society and the overwhelming majority of males and females are at risk at some point in their lives. Moreover, HPV causes multiple types of cancer including cervical, penile, vaginal, anal, vulvar and head and neck. In fact, each year in the U.S., 27,000 people are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV. That’s one person every 20 minutes. And here we are, a generation with a safe and effective vaccine readily available for us to protect our children, and yet, we – the parents, the ones responsible for protecting our children – are declining it in droves. This is simply unacceptable.

While I’m planning a future blog to address the common concerns regarding the HPV vaccine, I suggest visiting a previous blog written by Dr. Michael Bishop. For now, I think it’s more helpful to introduce you to a few of the men and women I mentioned earlier. These individuals share their story in an effort to help parents understand the importance of vaccinating their adolescents against HPV. The wisdom that comes from their collective experience provides a valuable perspective that younger parents, myself included, should appreciate and consider.

By all means, please do not let this life-saving opportunity pass you by. After all, when opportunity knocks, answer.

To read more stories of men and women affected by HPV, please visit our book.

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