There is no free in prevention.

This article about serious side effects possibly related to Gardasil is mostly speculation. Point conceded, so I won’t use it as fact. Instead, it’s worth considering the ethical questions. The (doctor) father of one teen believes Gardasil caused the medical problems his daughter now faces. (Correlation is not causation, of course.) He said:

One thing that’s different about Amanda’s case than some of the others is that both of her parents medical doctors who didn’t think twice about having their daughter get the shot – but are now second-guessing themselves. They call their daughter’s illness after Gardasil “a very sobering experience.” Amanda’s dad says, “as the father of three girls, I’ve had to ask myself why I let my eldest one get an unproven vaccine against a few strains of a nonlethal virus that can be dealt with in many more effective ways. It’s not like they are at high risk. It was the regrettable acceptance of the vaccine party line that [mis]led me.”

Don’t get distracted by “unproven vaccine” or “nonlethal virus”. They’re important in both the medical and ethical evaluation, but “can be dealt with in many more effective ways” should be the focus.

Merck, which makes the vaccine, the CDC and the FDA all say it is safe, effective, and important. Speaking of more than 8,000 adverse event reports and more than a dozen deaths, the CDC told CBS News, “we have found no connection between these deaths” and Gardasil. “We still recommend the vaccine and feel it is an important vaccine for the health of women. There are about 20 million people currently infected with HPV. Women have an 80 percent chance of developing HPV by the time they are 50. HPV is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. Because the vaccine is a preventative and not a cure, it is important that the vaccine be given prior to beginning sexual activity. About 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,600 will die. This vaccine prevents four viruses that account for about 70 percent of cervical cancers.” [emphasis added]

The CDC ignores the necessary caveats. It is important to give the vaccine prior to beginning sexual activity if the female will engage in risky sexual behavior and/or weighs the risk of infection greater than the risk of possible adverse reactions to Gardasil, among many factors in the decision. Parents can’t know the answers. They can assume, but assuming involves risk greater than they should impose. The threat of HPV is serious but infection is neither automatic nor inevitably deadly. Waiting involves additional risk. But risk involves rights. That can’t be forgotten.