By Dr. Lauren Kuwik
State Sen. Brad Hoylman’s proposal to mandate human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for seventh graders, S298b, has been on my radar for months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics already routinely recommend HPV vaccination for adolescents at age 11–12 years.
HPV is implicated in genital and oropharyngeal cancers. Cervical precancers have dropped by 40% since the introduction of HPV vaccination. Adolescent physicals get lost in the shuffle, and about half of teens remain unvaccinated. Requiring this cancer-preventing vaccine would increase coverage.
Questions about the bill have seeped into my social media feed. Videos appeared in the Facebook feeds of my patients. Most recently, the issue invaded a family dinner in the form of an anti-vaccine flyer that was taped across a relative’s door. The flyer’s cleverly crafted word choice lifted the language of a woman’s right to choose, with catch phrases like “our bodies, our choice,” while also endearing itself to the big medicine skeptics by highlighting increased revenue for Merck.
Anti-vaxxers link infertility, neurological illness, promiscuity and personality changes to HPV vaccination, sharing pseudoscientific articles and individual vignettes of all-star high school athletes on a downward spiral after receiving the vaccine. Though compelling stories, linking events in time does not prove causation.
The CDC has not found a link between these conditions and HPV vaccination. On a personal note, a few years after I was vaccinated, I became a doctor and had a baby. Medical degrees and babies are not side effects of HPV vaccination, although it would certainly be remarkable.
Anti-vaccine propaganda blames financial motivations for expanding HPV vaccination. In reality, vaccine profits are a tiny fraction of pharmaceutical company revenue. As for lining the pockets of doctors, it would be a lot easier for my staff if I didn’t stock vaccines, given the numerous suffocating regulations. The monthly cost of purchasing vaccines rivals the cost of paying our employees. But, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Vaccine scientists and proponents are subject to harassment. State senator and pediatrician Dr. Richard Pan led the push to limit vaccine exemptions in California. T-shirts were printed with his blood-stained face and one anti-vaxxer even threw a menstrual cup at lawmakers, splattering human blood on the Senate floor.
The safety of kids often goes to the wayside when voter support is on the line. As a board certified pediatrician and mother, I am encouraged to see our local state senators bravely standing up for the children of New York in the face of anti-vaccine criticism.
Lauren Kuwik, MD, is a pediatrician and internist in private practice in Orchard Park.