In a thread on a post by Bill Luse back in January, I discussed the strange argument given by some Christian groups and parents for giving their daughters the HPV vaccine Gardasil. To recap, here's how this argument I have run into goes: "Children have a stronger immune response than adults, even young adults. Therefore, by giving our eleven- and twelve-year-old daughters a vaccination for an STD, we aren't implying that we expect them to be sexually active in the immediately ensuing years! We are merely insuring that they have been vaccinated in the most effective way--namely, during childhood when they will have the strongest immune response--by the time they get married in their twenties, when they might marry men who might be, through regretted 'wild oats' in their earlier lives, carrying the virus."
As I pointed out, it is highly doubtful, to put it mildly, that our public health gurus would ever have recommended the widespread use of this vaccine for immediately pre-adolescent girls for that reason. On the contrary, it is quite clear that the reasoning was instead that these girls are expected to become sexually active en masse not very long after their twelfth birthdays and that the rush is to vaccinate them for an STD before it's "too late." Hence, parents whose daughters fall into a strikingly different reference class from those about whom this assumption is made have enormously less reason to have the vaccine for their daughters.
I also pointed out the possibility that the vaccine would not be effective ten or more years later and would require a booster, which vitiates the argument from strong childhood immune response. If that immune response has worn off by the time you expect it to be relevant, who cares if it was extra-powerful at the time when it was not needed?
Unbeknownst to me at that time, as far back as 2009, Dr. Diane Harper, the leading developer of the HPV vaccine, told an audience publicly, "[I]f you vaccinate a child, she won’t keep immunity in puberty and you do nothing to prevent cervical cancer.” It's unclear what Harper had to go on, concretely, since apparently in the same talk she stated that there were no studies of efficacy in girls under 15 (!) and that therefore it is unknown how much antibody resistance remains from childhood into puberty. Maybe she was just using this to hype sales of booster shots; certainly that was the conclusion Harper drew--booster shots are necessary because of uncertainty about the length of immunity. Nonetheless, from whatever source she was drawing, we do have something there rather straight from the horse's mouth: If you vaccinate a pre-pubescent girl, she will not have immunity even in puberty.
It's unclear how young of a "child" Dr. Harper had in mind. I would assume that by "a child" she meant an 11-year-old, since that is one of the ages at which vaccination is done. But let's take the long view and suppose that she was addressing some hypothetical notion (which no one has proposed to my knowledge) of vaccinating a much younger child--say, a 5-year-old. Still, her statement would mean that the immunity is not expected to last from that time until the girl is in puberty. If Harper is right, this also means that if you vaccinate an 11-year-old, the immunity is not expected to last ten years or more until she gets married in her early twenties. The word to doctors is that booster shots are definitely necessary.
There are a lot of other interesting statistics and cheerful admissions from Dr. Harper in the account of her 2009 lecture, including the statement that actually, widespread HPV vaccination is unlikely to lower cervical cancer in the United States to any very significant extent, considering the fact that cervical cancer rates are declining anyway. In fact, the only clear, concrete benefit of the vaccine Harper was able to cite was the prevention of abnormal PAP results and consequent "stress and anxiety."
But for me, the thing that really jumped out was the extremely strong admission of the need for booster shots rather than an expectation of long-term immunity from pre-puberty shots. This should pretty much destroy the silly "Christian" argument for vaccinating your 12-year-old with her later marriage in mind. We might as well just admit that this is all about expected sexual activity in teens, so much so that repeated booster shots are recommended from puberty onward to keep them protected against the virus.
So decide for yourself, Christian parents, whether you actually have that expectation for your teens, whether you really think you will "be the last to know," whether you believe that it's a good idea to be telling your teens, "Be chaste, but just in case you aren't, here's a shot (and a booster, and another booster) to keep you up-to-date protected against one STD (of many)."
But don't twist your own mind into a pretzel and insult the intelligence of other Christians by implying that this is all about getting that high-powered childhood immune system revved up when your little girl is twelve to protect her when she gets married at twenty-five. Don't bother. Just admit what's up.