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Does my child really need the HPV vaccine?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world, but it is unique in its behavior. A person (male or female) can carry a latent infection for years: testing negative, but carrying it all along. A person can acquire the virus through sexual contact or even through intimate skin-to-skin contact when they’re 14 or 15 and not test positive for it until they’re in their 20s and in a stable relationship.
Is it true, that two well-behaved adults, who have never had any intimate contact with another person, who marry, should be at zero risks for getting HPV? This is true. But the same young adults would not need the hepatitis vaccine. And what is truer, is that people are not perfect.
In my practice, with its wide variety of patients, I estimate about 5% of my Muslim patients test HPV positive. I find it in young couples who are both in first marriages. I find it in older couples who have been married for 10 years, who grew up back home. I have even found it in single women, 10 years divorced. These are difficult diagnoses to share, as the first question is always “where did it come from?” But share them I do–and often. And as this newer generation grows, I am already finding that young Muslim women have had intimate contacts in numbers that would alarm community elders. I am expecting the rates of HPV detection to sky rocket amongst young Muslim couples in the next 5-10 years.
HPV is not nearly as common in religiously adherent couples as it is in the general public (we estimate that 50% of college-age women are actively carrying the virus). However, it is quite prevalent in society, and people have histories.
Unless you can guarantee that your child will never stray, that your child will never marry someone who has strayed or a convert, that your child will never marry someone who may stray after they are married, and that your child will never be the victim of a sexual assault, then you cannot guarantee that they will never be exposed to HPV.
Given the low risk of the HPV vaccine (aside from the discomfort of the actual injection, the annoyance of three visits, and the cost, there is really little of concern with the vaccine) and the potential for benefit, it is hard to argue against vaccinating all young women and men.
Of course, as some are saying, you have your individual liberty, to decide what’s best for your children. But just as most of us who are born and raised in the US and who chose to practice this faith will never be exposed to polio, hepatitis B, diptheria and other infections we are all vaccinated for, we have no trouble protecting ourselves “just in case.” When risks outweigh benefits and costs are low, answers should be easy–not political.
And God knows best.
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