The more people talk about this, the more children will be protected as they rush toward adulthood.
At age 11 or 12, most American kids are just on the edge of puberty. Girls are wrapping up their last growth spurt; boys tend to still be growing. They may be trying their parents’ patience in every imaginable way, but parents and offspring alike are still coming to grips with the idea that childhood is nearly over.
The idea that those children need to be vaccinated against a form of sexually transmitted disease can add a note of surreality to an already stressful time. But that momentary mental jolt — and the quick sting of two vaccinations — pales in comparison to the utter havoc that the human papillomavirus can wreak in a human being’s life.
There are more than 40 strains of HPV, and most Americans are exposed to at least one of them at some point in their lives. Many cause no symptoms. But the varieties targeted by vaccines do carry health consequences, ranging from genital warts to potentially deadly cancers of the cervix, anus and exterior genitalia of men and women alike.
Officials are working hard to spread the word — including a summit earlier this month in Daytona Beach aimed at finding ways to encourage more families to vaccinate their sons and daughters before they become sexually active (the vaccine is most effective before young people are exposed to any strain of HPV) while working to convince more men and women to have screening for common cancers, knowing that early detection can save lives.
They are making progress, but it’s not enough — especially in light of a growing, and wrongheaded, backlash against other vaccines that Florida requires of children in public schools. A report released earlier this month revealed that of Florida’s 67 counties, 29 fell short of the state’s goal that 95 percent of all schoolchildren be vaccinated against once-common diseases like measles, diptheria and tetanus — vaccines that are supposed to be compulsory. The HPV vaccine is voluntary, making it a much tougher sell for public health officials.
That’s why this effort should include every possible resource, and keep reinforcing the message to the vast majority of parents who want their children to be protected.
Obvious partners include family physicians and teachers, but public health officials should cast a wider net, including enlisting teenagers. It’s worth remembering that in the 1990s, Florida’s teens helped shape one of the most successful anti-smoking campaigns in the nation’s history. Encouraging them to ask their parents for this protection might be the most potent way to ensure that they get it.
It’s not a fight that can be won overnight. But every completed vaccine series represents a small victory. And the more people talk about this, the more children will be protected as they rush toward adulthood. That’s worth a little fleeting discomfort.
This editorial was originally published by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, which is a sister publication of the Daily News within GateHouse Media.