Should Catholics Get the HPV Vaccine?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended universal vaccination against HPV for all 12-year-olds, both boys and girls. Our government is debating the need to mandate this vaccine against an STD. What more evidence do we need of the absurdly sad state of morality within the United States? Sexuality is Satan’s primary foothold in our society. We need to keep up the good fight. But do our beautiful 12-year-olds, many still so sweet and innocent, need the HPV vaccine? As a catholic pediatrician and mother, I would like to offer my perspective on this debate.

HPV, or the Human Papiloma Virus, is epidemic in the United States. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 24.5% of females in the United States aged 14 to 19 years are HPV positive. Among women 20-24 years old, an astounding 44.8% were positve.[1] HPV is everywhere. And HPV is a nasty virus. The consequences of HPV go far beyond cervical cancer. It also causes anal, penile, and oral cancers. It causes genital warts. The therapy for HPV can cause “incompetent cervix,” or a weakened cervix that causes woment to deliver babies prematurely. Therapy for HPV is time-consuming, expensive, and truly unpleasant.

Children and teens are contracting HPV at alarmingly young ages, many during their first sexual encounter. Why?

We do not know how many men carry HPV. It is difficult to test men for HPV, and most men with HPV are asymptomatic. Men usually contract the disease and pass it on unknowingly. Many young people think they are safe if their partner says they have never had any STDs and/or that they have had negative STD testing. Not true for HPV. Hence, males need the HPV vaccine, too. Gardasil has been approved for use in males since 2009.
Condoms aren’t great at preventing HPV transmission. HPV can be carried in the pubic area at the base of the penis in men and around the vulva in women. Just covering the shaft of the penis with a condom does not prevent transmission.
HPV can be trasmitted by hand-genital or oral-genital contact. You do not need to have full-fledged intercourse to get HPV.
HPV can be transmitted through sexual abuse and rape.

But what about the risks? They are minimal and rare. HPV is not rare, and the consequences of HPV are not minimal.

So, let’s assume your child waits until marriage for her first sexual encounter, including hand-genital contact. She still has a very significant chance of contracting HPV from her spouse, even if he has had only one prior sexual partner, and even if he only had hand-genital contact with that partner. And, statistically, her spouse probably will have had another partner. According to a 2006 study, 75% of Americans have had pre-marital sex by age 20, and that number climbs to 95% by age 44.[2]

Let's also assume your daughter is a statistical anomoly and manages to find herself a spouse who has never had any form of sexual contact with another partner. She is still at risk of contracting HPV by undesired sexual contact, even if that contact was hand-genital.

Yes, your beautiful 12-year-old girl, or boy, needs the HPV vaccine. That’s the sad truth.

[1] Dunne, E.F., et al. Prevalence of HPV infection among females in the United States. JAMA. 2007;297(8):813.

[2] Finer L. Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954-2003. Public Health Reports, 2007; 23: 73.

Copyright 2011 Kathleen Berchelmann, MD

[1] Dunne, E.F., et al.  Prevalence of HPV infection among females in the United States. JAMA. 2007;297(8):813.
[2] Finer L. Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954-2003. Public Health Reports, 2007; 23: 73.

About Kathleen Berchelmann M.D.

Kathleen Berchelmann M.D.'s picture

Our founder, Kathleen M. Berchelmann, M.D., is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and an Instructor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. She is a 1998 graduate of Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts and a 2003 graduate of The University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency in Pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis.

Prior to medical school, she attended divinity school at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Berchelmann is a board-certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Berchelmann is a wife and mother of five.

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