Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I'm Against the HPV Vaccine

Many people believe that being opposed to the HPV vaccine means that you are some kind of a religious fanatic: "Conservative elements and religious institutions have often opposed it for the same reasons they oppose birth control education in schools—that these measures will somehow encourage young people to have sex." I, however, oppose it on feminist grounds.

Patriarchal systems across the world coincide in presenting the female body as diseased, inherently wrong, and in need of constant policing and control. This control is often carried out through the attempts to "repair" the female body medically. Women are constantly told that somehow they simply cannot exist unless their bodies are continuously modified through some form of medication. Hormone replacement therapy, HPV vaccine, PMS medication, Mydol. The idea behind all this is that female body is one huge mistake of nature, which can finally be stabilized thorugh the benevolent ministrations of pharmaceutical companies. The HPV vaccine is supposed to "only work" when administered to teenagers. Obviously, the goal is to start convincing women as early as possible that the very fact of being female equals being damaged and in need of a cure.

For me, all these efforts to present women as perennial invalids who need to be cured of their painful and problematic gender are the modern equivalent of foot-binding.


Pagan Topologist said...

Yes, Exactly! I was horrified a year or so ago when a quite enlightened woman I know asked her 18 year old daughter to promise never to have sex until she had had the HPV vaccine. It is so pervasive.

Of course, I am skeptical about lots of vaccines. I think the Salk Polio vaccine was a good idea, and the smallpox one, but I never take flu vaccines.

Anonymous said...

You're right. The advertising is horrible, even though man carry and spread it as much as women that half of the equation is ignored, and you're right that there is a seriously bad tendency in the medical establishment to unnecessarily and erroneously treat being female (I had one grandmother die from it) and in some ways this is one more example.

But I can't help but wonder if you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater? My mother taught me "better living through chemistry" and for me this is one example of that. Cervical cancer runs in my family, and I'm glad for some protection. I'm glad to have one more thing not to worry about in the event that I am even raped. I pretty much feel the same way about hormones: I'm on the pill, and it makes me very glad that I don't have to worry about getting pregnant (99.99%). I am on the pill also because prior to it, my cramps were so bad I'd miss days of school alternating between vomiting on the bathroom floor (from pain) and passing out. So hormones definitely increase my quality of life.

I'm only one example, of course, but I don't think I'm unique. I do think there are good reasons to prescribe a lot of the things you mention. That doesn't excuse the advertisers or the bad prescriptions, but I think it's worth remembering.

NancyP said...

The ads may suck, but the vaccine itself addresses a real problem. In my opinion, boys ought to be getting it as well. Men do get HPV-related cancers.

Why start at a young age? The ideal is to have immunity at first sexual contact. Some HPV types can regress. Some HPV types have a tendency to integrate into the host DNA, and these viruses are harder to get rid of. Most cervical cancer is due to the integrative life cycle HPV types.

Of course, the HPV viral group can adapt to the new situation, and when the population incidence of types 16 and 18 is reduced, some other type will become prevalent.

The real beneficiaries should be women in less-developed nations, especially rural women, because the infrastructure for cancer screening isn't in place. Even before the HIV epidemic, the most common cancer in African women was cervical cancer (for both incidence and mortality). In the United States, if the vaccine is not mandated and paid for by the government, the people who will get the vaccine are the people who undergo screening on a regular basis and not the poor girls who may well grow up to be poor women who would rather eat or have heat than spend money and time on screening. These poor women are the ones who get the worst cervical cancer and who die from it at disproportionate rates. The privately insured middle class women may lose fertility because of treatment of early cancer, but rarely dies from cervical cancer.

In the U.S., government-mandated vaccines can be refused by non-military personnel and parents of children for religious reasons or for medical reasons. In an opt-out system where the cost is very low or nil, most people will have their child immunized. It is too much trouble to fight with the public schools over requirements for vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, H.influenzae, polio. Medical certification of relative immunodeficiency or proof of membership in the Christian Science Church must be provided.

Armed Forces recruits are required to accept vaccination for meningococcus (not common, but a killer of young people living in crowded settings). Depending on deployment, there may be other required vaccines.

Anonymous said...

Don't miss the HPV Vaccine Controversy book- It is excellent and highly recommended by public and professionals

Jeff said...

This is a dangerous and misguided stance. I agree with you about pms, hormones and other natural states that are not in need of a "fix". I think deuching also falls into this category. However, hpv is the most commonly *transmitted* STD according to the center for disease control. HPV can cause cervical cancer, genital warts, and other complications. Everything else you cite is not *transmissible*.

A proven, tested method to reduce the health risks of a transmissible virus like hpv is to innoculate as much of the population as possible.

Advocating against vaccination is a danger to society in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how cancer is an acceptable part of the female human body, or any human body, as long as we can find a way to avoid it.

Anonymous said...

My gut feeling goes with Clarissa. I'm not against medication etc. and I HOPE they'll let me have hormone replacement therapy one day. BUT the idea that one should vaccinate oneself so that one can then be sexually available to infected men.

I often think is the subtext from the medical establishment has a sort of 1960s Playboy Bunny idea of women -- one should want to service men sexually, so one should make it easy for both the infected ones and the ones you might sleep with after the infected ones.

Lindsay said...

I agree with you that pathologizing the female body --- especially in its sexual and reproductive functions --- is a serious problem in our culture.

But I don't think a vaccine against human papillomavirus is an instance of that trend, so much as a step toward making sex safer for everyone.

(At the time that I am writing this comment, which is some months after your post, I see ads on TV for HPV vaccinations that work for both sexes. I also remember that, even though the vaccine was originally just for girls/women, the goal was to make it available to everyone. Which makes the most sense from an immunity standpoint --- if everyone is immunized, eventually the virus will just drop out of circulation, like measles virus has most places).

Also, you do not have to be a teenager to get the vaccine! I got it when I was in my mid-20s. What they want is for you to be "naive" to the virus --- unexposed. If you've already been exposed, the shot won't work, and might actually cause you to have a flareup of symptoms, i.e. genital warts. So how old you can be when you get it is a function of whether you've had intercourse or not.

I see the weird subtext in targeting girls/women first, but here's the rationale as I understand it: HPV causes genital warts in both sexes, but in women it can also cause cervical cancer. It can cause cancer in men, too, but none of those HPV-linked cancers are as common as cervical cancer in women. So I think they prioritized a vaccine for women because more women get cervical cancer from HPV than men get cancer of the penis, anus or mouth from it.

But, again, the vaccine is now recommended for both men and women. That seems like it should mitigate your worries about women's bodies being seen as diseased where men's are not.

Hope that helps!