In the September 20th edition of the New York Times, Denise Grady quotes Representative Michele Bachmann as saying that the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is "dangerous." Scientists immediately disputed this, but it may be too late–Grady writes, "When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop."
The vaccine is recommended for young adolescent girls, in order to protect them from the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cancer. Some of the opposition to the vaccine stems from the idea that having the vaccine will encourage young girls to become sexually promiscuous. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, and 25% of girls and women ages 14 to 49 have been infected, with 44% in ages 20 to 24.
Millions of new infections occur each year, and researchers think that at least half of all adults have been infected at some point in their lives. In most people, it’s harmless, but in some people, for unknown reasons, the immune system can’t fight it off and the virus persists and can lead to cancer.
And cervical cancer has almost no symptoms in the beginning of the disease. Once the symptoms begin to reappear in young women, parents will become concerned and start vaccinating their daughters again, but by then it’s often too late.
Grady quotes pediatrician Rodney E. Willoughby as saying, "These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford (because) unfortunately, the outbreak is silent and will take 20 years to manifest."
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