Panama City - Ever since the FDA approved a vaccine for the prevention of the human papillomavirus in 2006, it's been a hot button issue. The discussion got political when several state governments considered mandating the HPV vaccine, although only Virginia has done so. The issue has even entered the presidential campaign when Texas Governor Rick Perry took heat for ordering all girls vaccinated. And fellow candidate Michelle Bachman passed on the rumor she'd heard that the vaccine led to mental retardation.
So where does Florida stand on the issue? In the state of Florida the vaccine is not required, simply recommended. But the doctors NewsChannel 7 spoke with say the recommendation is being ignored by a surprisingly high number of parents.
Based on American Cancer Society estimates, about 30 women a day are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. According to the CDC, 80% of all women will be infected with the HPV virus by the age of 50, but experts say there is something that can be done in middle school to prevent that.
The HPV vaccine is known to prevent the virus which can lead to cervical cancer. Despite that, health officials estimate only 20 to 30% of Northwest Florida girls have been vaccinated against it. The question is why? Doctors say one reason far outweighs the others. "Parents tend to think about it in the sense that it might be giving their kids an OK to do things that they would not necessarily religiously or culturally believe in," said pediatrician Dr. Eehab Kenawy. "Very often it comes out as us condoning kids at a young age having sex, primarily when the recommendation is to vaccinate between the ages of 11 and 12. We have approval to do it as young as 9. We do it primarily because that is the age you have the most antibodies," said Dr. Thomas Hermann, a pediatrician with Baldwin Pediatrics.
So how do parents talk to their kids about it? "I would approach it strictly from a health standpoint, that you know 'Yes I understand.' I would again have told my children what my beliefs are before this conversation. But try to stress this is something that will keep you healthy," said Kerry Hunt with the Bay County Health Department.
Another reason parents shy away from the vaccine, it hasn't been on the market very long. "I'm just not sure. I don't want to put my child through a shot she doesn't necessarily need to have," said Kelly Griner.
Fear over side effects may deter some, but Dr. Kenawy points out the vaccine is not for infants or very young children. "HPV is only indicated for 9 years and older. It's not something we would see with autism, although there is no link between autism and vaccinations. But that fear that is out there in the general public does not exist with this vaccine because of the age group."
Doctors say the benefits of the HPV vaccine far outweigh what they call very small risks. "Vaccines save lives. We don't have polio for the most part, chicken pox, we stopped vaccinating for small pox because we have eradicated it. Vaccines save lives and we strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated," said Dr. Hermann.
The debate is sure to intensify now that the CDC recommends the vaccination for boys to prevent penile and throat cancers. If you'd like to have your child vaccinated, the three shot series is available free of charge at the Bay County Health Department.