By Brenda Flanagan
“It’s just not a conversation piece,” said Gretchen Jennings.
She decided not to get her three teenaged daughters vaccinated against HPV — human papillomavirus . It’s spread by sexual activity and can cause cancer. But Jennings feels ambivalent about the vaccine.
“If this is something that you really, really should do, why aren’t they pushing it anymore? What happened to the commercials on TV?” she asked. “It’s almost like a fad, something that came out, they said, ‘You should!’ And now, it’s like what happened? What happened to it?”
Jenning’s 17-year-old Kimber says she and her friends regard the vaccine as a non-issue.
“It would be more important if my doctor really pushed it, to make it sound like it was important. Like if he said, ‘Kimber, you need to get this vaccine.’ But that’s not how it was,” she said.
As a group, fewer Jersey girls aged 13 to 17 last year received all three shots of Gardasil — the HPV vaccine. Just 31.4 percent compared to the national average of 37.6 percent. Jersey boys scored 14.2 percent — closer to the national average of 13.9 percent.
Vaccine critics claim parents are less trusting of government health officials.
“I think the whole mentality is that parents are taking the time now to investigate further than what their doctors are telling them — getting information — and they’re making decisions based on full disclosure of the information,” said Maureen Drummond.
Health care professionals say they suspect it’s a little difficult for parents to discuss this vaccine with their kids because it involves sexual behavior.
“Our job as parents is to prevent disease,” said Dr. Wayne Yankus.
Yankus is past president of New Jersey’s Academy of Pediatrics.
“It just makes sense to me that you would want to immunize middle schoolers before they get into high school and begin any kind of sexual contact because the vaccine is most effective if it’s done before you have sexual contact,” Yankus said.
And it’s expensive: $170 a pop, though most insurance covers it. It takes three shots for the vaccine to work effectively, and it’s not required by state law in New Jersey.
“Right now in our climate, physicians are pushing for school-required vaccines and for some of us that’s enough of a chore,” Yankus said.
“It doesn’t seem like I’m getting enough information about why I should move forth and have this done,” Jennings said.
She wants to see some urgency before she schedules a doctor’s appointment.