When it comes to teens and reproductive health, the official government stance has always been one of willful ignorance: "Teens doing what? Preposterous! Run along now and have a lollipop, that's a good girl."
Which is why I find the sudden federal push behind the HPV vaccine Gardasil rather suspect. (Briefly, in case you were in a coma until 5 minutes ago, Gardasil protects against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which is a leading cause of cervical cancer.) First there was the big campaign to make the vaccine mandatory for girls, an initiative that ticked off the GOP in a huge way (for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately).
Now, in a stroke of unprecedented weirdness, California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that would allow girls as young as 12 to receive the vaccine without parental consent.
Wait, what? Girls under 17 still have to pay off their big sisters to go buy Plan B for them at CVS, but now 12-year-olds can sign up to receive a potentially dangerous vaccination of their own accord?
Granted, California policy is unique in that it tends to favor minors when it comes to birth control, abortion, and STD testing: Kids ages 12 and older can receive any of these services without parental consent, and health care providers are not permitted to release medical records to parents without written permission from the minor.
So I can only assume that Brown is mentally lumping the HPV vaccine in with free pregnancy tests and hand-outs of Ortho Tri-Cyclen. But that's a mistake, because those things have been around for quite some time and all associated risks are well-documented, whereas Gardasil is still so new that sufficient research on potential dangers hasn't been done. There simply hasn't been time.
Findings so far, however, do suggest that the vaccine might pose some some very serious hazards, including chronic autoimmune disease, blood clots, and death. (Sorry Michele Bachmann, "mental retardation" is not on the list.)
This is really something we want our 12-year-olds to sign up for all on their own?
Unlike the GOP, I'm not against the HPV vaccine because I'm afraid it will make teens have more sex. I'm actually not against the HPV vaccine at all -- not yet anyway, because I don't know enough about it to decide one way or another. That's the problem: None of us know enough about it.
Do you think kids should be allowed to get the HPV vaccine without parental consent?
Image via Carlos Monsalvez/Flickr