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Low rates of vaccination for HPV consigns some children to cancer

Some issues in a large and diverse democracy are going to be difficult to settle. How much control should there be on guns? Is abortion a woman’s right or is it homicide? What should be the standards on immigration? Anyone who is thinking can understand that different people will have different views on such contentious subjects.

But preventing cancer? This one should be a no-brainer, yet there are people who resist vaccinating their children against human papillomavirus, which causes most cervical cancers as well as some oral, anal, vulvar, vaginal and penile cancers. HPV can also cause genital warts. And it can all be avoided if boys and girls are vaccinated.

But it’s not happening, at least not often enough. In Erie County, only 30 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 complete the three-dose immunization regimen, and in Niagara County, the rate is only 28.5 percent. Both are well below the national average of 38 percent for girls. For boys, the national average is only 14 percent. These numbers are tragedies in waiting. Some of the unvaccinated will develop cancers and some of them will die. And for what reason? Mainly, ignorance.

Some parents don’t know about the availability of the vaccine because their doctors don’t tell them. Of those who are aware of it and still don’t vaccinate their children, some believe it is not important, some think it is dangerous and some worry that it will encourage promiscuity in their children.

No, no and no.

In order: It’s important. Not every child was going to get polio, either, but every child received the vaccine once it was available.

It’s not dangerous. Uninformed people spread false stories; some may even do so maliciously. Studies have found no serious safety issues so far, and for a series of shots that can be life-saving.

It’s not an aphrodisiac. The notion that protection against cancer will cause children to become promiscuous is preposterous. Sexual conduct has more to do with how children are raised than with the vaccinations they receive. A child not given to indiscriminate sex is not suddenly going to change – and one who is desperately needs this vaccination.

Most needed is for doctors to do more to recommend the HPV vaccine to their patients. That’s the single best way to help more children become protected. After her doctor spoke up, Natasha Wagner of Williamsville did some research, found out the scare stories were just that and had her daughter vaccinated.

Kari Winter of East Amherst also did her own research, overcame her doubts and had her son vaccinated. “Whatever the risk people imagine is countered by the overwhelming tragedy of sickness and death of not having vaccines,” she said. Yes.

Dr. Colleen Mattimore of Western New York Pediatrics believes that growing numbers of pediatricians will become more comfortable with recommending the vaccine. As she observed, if parents know their child’s doctor believes it to be important and understands that the doctor has researched the matter, more parents will comply.

Some never will, it seems, and that’s a shame. Their children may pay a terrible price.