HPV Vaccine Can’t Innoculate Against Immorality

Last month, an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta recommended that 9 -12-year-old boys be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus transmitted through sexual contact. The goal of the recommendations was to prevent cancers caused by HPV, such as certain cancers of the digestive tract.

The same committee had already recommended, back in March of 2007, that girls and young women between the ages of 9 and 26 be vaccinated against HPV, to help prevent various cancers of the reproductive tract, such as cervical cancer.

While the motivation to prevent cancer and diseases is clearly good, a universal recommendation of this type raises ethical concerns. Because the recommendations of the committee relate to important aspects of human behavior and sexuality at formative ages for children and adolescents, parents need to look at the psychological and social messages they might be conveying by choosing to vaccinate their children against HPV. Beyond all the medical considerations, parents also have a duty to innoculate their children against harmful and immoral behaviors. Thus, decisions about vaccinations ultimately need to be made on a case-by-case basis within a particular family.

Parents are often rightly concerned that getting their kids vaccinated for a sexually-transmitted virus could be taken to signal tacit approval of pre-marital sex. Young people might surmise that their parents and physicians do not believe they can remain chaste, but instead begrudgingly expect them to become sexually active prior to marriage.

The widespread phenomenon of condom distribution among youth certainly conveys the same message, and young people today are not fools; they perceive how the culture around them has caved in on this question, no longer insisting, or even believing, that they have the wherewithal to refrain from pre-marital sex. Girls and boys are no longer treated as free individuals who can make higher and better choices when encouraged and supported, but instead are treated as mere creatures of sexual necessity.

I recall one time speaking with a middle-aged woman about the CDC vaccination recommendations. “When I was a girl, if my mom had taken me to get vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease, I would have been horrified,” she said. “I would have wondered to myself, ‘What does she suppose I am, a tramp or something?’”

Parents do need to be careful about conveying a sense of fatalism when it comes to questions of the sexual behavior of their kids. Against the backdrop of a highly permissive culture, parents, who are the first educators of their children in sexual matters, are right to be concerned about sending conflicting messages.

Pursuing universal vaccination for sexually transmitted diseases like HPV could have the unintended effect of setting up a false sense of security, a kind of mental “safety net,” for boys and girls who are potentially sexually active. In the hormonally charged environment of adolescence, young people might come to believe that the risks of premarital sex would be reduced by the vaccination, to the point that they would be “protected” and could risk promiscuous behaviors, when in fact, they would be increasing their odds of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) of any kind.

To consider an example where using the HPV vaccine might be sensible, we could consider a young woman who had been chaste all her life but who was preparing to marry a man whom she suspected had been sexually active (and might therefore expose her to HPV in their marriage). She could decide, prior to marriage, that receiving the HPV vaccination would be reasonable, and even without any suspicions about her future spouse’s past behavior, she might still prefer to leave nothing to chance.

Evaluating the potential risks and benefits of vaccinating boys or young men would similarly indicate various situations where the HPV vaccination would be reasonable. Also, at younger ages, children may not need to know the exact purposes behind a vaccination. They could simply be told by their parents (if they even asked) that the vaccine would protect them against possible cancers in the future.

Parents themselves, however, might still have doubts about the safety of the HPV vaccine, given that its side effects and complications are still being actively debated and studied. They might still have questions about its long-term benefits since it affords only a five-year window of protection, and has only been surmised, but never scientifically demonstrated, to prevent cancer at a time far in the future.

In sum, many factors need to be considered. Rather than a universal mandate, a careful, case-by-case risk/benefit analysis ought to be made by each family to determine whether the HPV vaccine is a reasonable choice, not only medically, but also in terms of where a young person may be in his or her life as a “moral agent.”

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  • ailina

    The HPV vaccine CAN innoculate against the immorality of unfaithful spouses. Since HPV tends to be symptomless, it can unknowingly be passed to spouses. That is why I want to innoculate my children: so they don’t suffer the same fate I did.

  • drea916

    Articles like this can really sow confusion. Getting vaccinated for HPV can be moral. A person can be exposed to the virus through situations that are not immoral. A person can be sexually assualted. A spouse may be bring it into a marriage, so that even though the spouse is faithful, they may have been exposed before the marriage, through fornification OR a previous marriage.

    I think the faithful have to really understand HOW to discern moral decesions. It is a process with steps and not just looking at a situation and guessing.

  • rakeys

    Keep in mind that they are recommending that 9-12 year old boys get vaccinated, as well as 9-12 year old girls, not women and men who are about to be married. Gardasil is administered in 3 shots, each at a cost of $300, for a total of $900. The vaccine is good for only 5 years. thus an 11 yr old girl will lose her immunity at age 16, when she is more likely to have sex and thinks she is protected from HPV and cervical cancer. The vaccine does not protect from other venereal diseases, or pregnancy. She will need to get vaccinated at age 16 and again at age 21 and 26 to protect from the HPV her husband might have.
    The best recommendation to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is not to have sex until you are married and marry another virgin. By the way the divorce rate for virgins is only 15%, not 50%. God’s plan for sexuality works a lot better than the modern worlds plan, and protects you from HPV.