Many of us trust Focus on the Family to give us family-friendly advice on our kids' well-being. It is therefore disappointing that the organization's latest mini-magazine (March, 2007) has an article on the HPV vaccine (p. 27) that contains misleading information.
The brief piece gives the impression that a girl's merely getting older will make the vaccine less effective for her and that therefore parents might want to give the vaccine to 11 and 12-year-old girls, even if they expect them to be chaste until marriage.
Of course, if you and your daughter expect fully that she will remain chaste until marriage, the earliest you would expect that she might want to get the vaccine would be prior to marrying a young man who was not a virgin and might be carrying the virus. Why not wait until then?
Ms. Klepacki tries to answer this question: "But why is this vaccine important to young girls who are not sexually active? The answer is simple: The vaccine is highly effect if given when the child is around 11 or 12 years of age, but its effectiveness decreases slightly when given at an older age."
Um, no, Ms. Klepacki, the answer is not simple, and that version of it is misleading. From this statement you'd be likely to think that there is something intrinsically biologically special about the age of 11 or 12 and that, for mysterious biological reasons, the mere passage of time makes it less effective for a young woman of, say, 21.
As far as I have been able to ascertain from the CDC's own web page on the vaccine, these implications are flatly false. Here is the CDC's answer to the same question:
"Why is the vaccine recommended for girls 11 to 12 years of age? It is important for girls to get HPV vaccine before they become sexually active. The vaccine is most effective for girls/women who get vaccinated before their first sexual contact. It does not work as well for those who were exposed to the virus before getting the vaccine. However, most women will still benefit from getting the vaccine because they will be protected against other virus types contained in the vaccine."
In other words, it is the expectation of sexual activity, not something about the girl's age by itself, that is driving the push to vaccinate girls of this age. The vaccine's effectiveness does not magically "decrease" as a girl grows older. Rather, its effectiveness is believed to be less in women already exposed to the virus, which is expected to happen when they become sexually active, which is expected to happen...when they are in their teens. Ms. Klopecki is just completely off on this when she gives decrease in effectiveness as an answer to those questioning vaccination for girls who are not sexually active.
Then, sounding disturbingly like a lobbyist for Merck, Ms. Klopecki goes on like this: "Early vaccination can protect girls from both present and future risks of infections." She alludes to the possibility that a chaste woman might marry a man who was carrying the virus.
While such exposure in marriage is certainly a possibility, the statement that early vaccination protects from far-future risks of infection is questionable. Again, the CDC states outright that it is not known how long the protectiveness of the vaccine lasts, and that so far studies have been done only up to five years. Usually, says the CDC, it is not possible to tell when a vaccine is introduced how long it will be effective. So any claim that "early vaccination" will protect a girl of 11 from being infected when she gets married in her early 20's is still very much in doubt. No one knows. If exposure is not going to occur for ten years or more, and if the vaccination has lost its effectiveness by then, there will be no value to "early vaccination." The girl will have gone through any side effects of the childhood shots for nothing.
The article then says some good things about following God's plan for abstinence. But overall, it gives the impression that Christian parents of chaste daughters should seriously consider vaccinating them at an early age when no sexual activity is expected. And it bases that near-recommendation on confusions regarding the vaccine and its effectiveness. I'm going to assume that these weren't deliberate. But in that case, Linda Klepacki didn't do her homework, and Focus--usually such a reliable organization--has let us down in researching this issue.