Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Teens on Gardasil: What do they think?

I recently posted some articles about Governor Brown’s new law that will allow children as young as 12 to receive the Gardasil vaccine without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

In case you’re just hearing about the newest vaccine debate, here’s some info about Gardasil from the website to get you started:

GARDASIL is the only HPV vaccine that helps protect against 4 types of HPV. In girls and young women ages 9 to 26, GARDASIL helps protect against 2 types of HPV that cause about 75% of cervical cancer cases, and 2 more types that cause 90% of genital warts cases. In boys and young men ages 9 to 26, GARDASIL helps protect against 90% of genital warts cases.
GARDASIL also helps protect girls and young women ages 9 to 26
against 70% of vaginal cancer cases and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases.

So why wouldn’t parents want their kids getting this vaccine?

Some parents are concerned about side effects.  Others fear that vaccinating children against STDs will give kids a green light to jump in the sack. Jerry Brown’s law, which takes effect in January, 2012, simply removes parents’ from the equation. Problem solved.

But noticeably missing from all the noise are the voices of those most affected by the whole debate: the kids. If we’re going to plop this responsibility in their laps, it seems fitting that we hear what they have to say about it.

So I asked around.

Let me preface by saying, there is no particular research design here. The 40 or 50 kids I surveyed ranged in age from 14-19 and reside in Los Angeles county.  I explained the law, briefly explained what Gardasil was – a striking number of them had never heard of it – and described the concerns on both sides of the issue.  The quoted answers below represent the most common responses I received. 

Here’s what they said:

What do you think of the law?
“If the child wants to take that risk, I think it’s okay but the child should be informed, given all the information so that they would be smarter on the decision they are going to make.”

“Nobody should be denied vaccines for any reason.”

“Actually [Gardasil] should just be mandated like other vaccines you need for school.”
"It’s wrong because [Governor Brown] should at least talk to the parents or have them vote.”

“This law may expand for other medical uses.”

"This is not okay. It sounds like [the law] was done out of a whim or something.”

Are kids old enough to make this decision?
“As teenagers we know what we are doing.”

“any [kid] can be educated about this if their doctor is willing.”

“When you feel that it’s your responsibility you rise to the occasion”.

“Every kid should have the right [to make the decision]. Because it’s their responsibility and their own body.”

"12 year olds are  are still young and don’t know what they are doing. I mean at least the kids should be a little older, like 15  or 16,  so they can actually think more carefully for themselves."

“[Kids] are more interested in playing and are not going to be able to make a serious decision."

“If kids are able to get their own medicine, they should be responsible to do anything.”

What about the parents?
“Some parents are worried about side effects. But what’s worse, a few side effects or cancer?”

“A lot of parents are uninformed or even ignorant. Look at the whole autism debate.”

“Kids can take this vaccine behind the parents back and if something goes wrong it’s the parents’ responsibility and nobody wins except for the drug company [who]  wins your money.”

"Parents care and they know what’s good and bad for kids.

"If the kids are making decisions like that, what are parents for?”

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  1. Pre-teen and teenagers do a lot of things without parental permission or awareness. They drink and/or do drugs and some are hospitalized and die because of it. If the state allows this vaccination without parental permission or awareness, who is legally liable for some of the side effects and death that have happened because of this particular vaccine? Should parents have to foot the bills--some girls have had post-vaccination reactions that seem like there will be long-term disabilities. Will a parent be able to respond quickly enough, if the child has a reaction to the vaccination? Might their state-mandated ignorance at an ER delay appropriate treatment? I would think that the state should be made liable for any health related effects of this vaccination, if parents are kept ignorant. I applaud your dialogue with teens about this issue. They have some very thoughtful comments.

  2. Hi Valerie,
    I recently commented that my 9 year old has to be reminded daily to brush his teeth. So three years from now he's going to make medical decisions? And, yes, talking to teens about it was very enlightening. It was interesting to me, for example, that the vast majority of kids in favor of the law were from higher income homes, with more access to better information, better healthcare, and seemed to come from a more "progressive" environment. One girl told me that she had been encouraged by her parents to go on birth control. She had discussed with her doctor, did a fair amount of research, and decided this was not the best choice for her. Her position on the Gardasil law was that teenagers were capable of making informed choices, and "rising to the occasion" to take responsibility. However I don't think she represented most teens. I think at the heart of the issue is the removal of parents from the decision altogether, which I see more and more in all sorts of decisions that involve children. My feeling is that, unless there is certain and immediate danger to a child, the government has no place in these personal, family decisions.

  3. This_Child, I don't understand your reasoning that this bill/law represents the government making the choice for your family. The way I read it, the law is about allowing the child to make a choice, sometimes independently of the parent's wishes.

  4. The law represents a government action to take a medical decision away from parents and hand it to a child. I understand that the child would be making this decision in consultation with a healthcare worker, and in most cases their parents, but according to the law, the child is ultimately in charge of the decision. I do not believe that most 12 year olds are mature enough to make this final decision. Furthermore, I do not agree with actions that undermine a parents' role to make medical decisions for their children without a clear, imminent presumption of medical danger. Certainly there are instances when doctors and others must legally intervene to protect a child, however I do not feel that the administration of a vaccine warrants such action.

  5. My opinion is that most 12 year old children also do not have the maturity to make good choices about sexual activity. And most 12 year olds are not sexually active. But some active, whether they are wise enough to make good choices about that, and some of them that are active may not be able to discuss it all with their parents. So the government is allowing medical professionals to give some of these kids some help, more than it is mandating that 12 year olds make medical decisions.

  6. But it's doing far more than allowing professionals to provide help. It's allowing 12 year olds to get the vaccine. I also don't think that 12 year olds should be able to consent to the pill without parent's consent. 16, sure, but 12 is too young. I understand that this has to do with the proper timing of administration of Gardasil, but again, parents' decision. And I don't buy the need for this law because of the fear of discussing Gardasil with parents. As any doctor will tell you (and the concerned parent) it is supposed to protect against some STDs, yes, but also cervical cancer later in life, which, as a parent, would be the more compelling reason to get it anyway.