Posted by: Allyson | October 10, 2008


From the Daily Women’s Health Policy Report: “One in Four Teenage Girls Received HPV Vaccine in Its First Full Year of Distribution, CDC Says.”

I don’t know what it is about Gardasil that bugs me.  Seriously, I don’t.  I can think of a couple of things that bother me, but there’s nothing cohesive about it:

  1. Last year, my female housemates bought into it hook, line, and sinker.  I’m not saying that Merck is trying to con people.  I’m not saying we should be totally against Gardasil.  It just seemed that all of my female friends were rushing to get this vaccine, like they were all going to develop cervical cancer TOMORROW if they didn’t get it ASAP.
  2. It drives me crazy when people call Gardasil a vaccination against cervical cancer.  It’s not a vaccination agains cervical cancer!  It is a vaccination against HPV, a virus that has a strong causal link to cervical cancer! 
  3. The price.  Okay, my insurance policy covers it, so I could have it if I wanted.  But I also have a truly excellent insurance policy (it covered the whole of my IUD insertion minus the $30 copay!).  Not all people have insurance policies that cover it.  Not all people have insurance.  If this vaccine is so damn vital, why is it $375?  I just bought a COMPUTER that cost less than that.
  4. I’m sick of everyone pressuring me to have this vaccine.  Okay, not everyone.  By my aforementioned female housemates.  My mother.  The nurse at the gynecologist’s office.  I have my own reasons for not wanting it.  I don’t have the risk factor for HPV or cervical cancer in my daily life or my medical history.  I am nervous about getting a vaccine that is so new.  Hello, it was in it’s first year of distribution.  NEW.  Since I don’t have the associated risk factors, I’d rather just not get the vaccine, because who knows what sorts of long-term side effects it might have?  Yeah, you can call me paranoid all you want.  I don’t care.  It’s my body, and I’m the one who chooses whether or not to put strange vaccines in there.  Stop pressuring me.
  5. Reading this article, it kind of freaked me out that the CDC has a goal to vaccinate 90% of teenages.  I mean, I guess it’s not really sketchy.  I’m sure there are goals to vaccinate 99% of babies against measles and polio.  But there is a lot of controversy surrounding Gardasil, so for some reason, hearing that there is a goal number as well as “25% is good, but not good enough,” just bothered me.

So I guess I don’t have a beef with Gardasil in general.  I’m not anti-vaccine.  I think it’s a great idea, and that if you want it, go for it.  But it worries me to see my friends running after it without doing a lot of research on it.  And I’m sick of being pressured all the time to get vaccinated myself.  Dude, it’s my body.  Let me think about it, and if I don’t want it, leave me alone. 


Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like



  1. Thank you. I’ve said the same things and get told that I’m anti-science and anti-women. I’m so tired of hearing over and over again that it’s a cancer vaccine when it’s not.

  2. Regarding point #3: at least in NYC, if you’re under 26 years old, you can get the HPV vaccine for free from the immunization clinics at the health department. So at least some public agencies feel it is important enough to subsidize.

    Regarding point #5: It’s hard to fault the CDC for promoting the vaccine. Their goal is to (study and) reduce public health risks, of which the continued spread of sexually transmitted infections like HPV is a big one.

    That said, I definitely agree with your overall concern about the vaccine’s newness and the fact that one should be able to get it or not if she chooses.

  3. One bright winter’s day last year, my mom told me she’d be picking me up after school for a doctor’s appointment. I shrugged it off, figuring I was due for a checkup, and when I got in the car she told me it was for the HPV vaccine.

    I flipped the f**k out and she couldn’t figure out why. I was 16 at the time, but I still feel I could make reasonable medical decisions for myself. Anyway, I talked with her about my concerns (it’s a new vaccine, I’m not at risk just yet, I want to do research first) and she cancelled the appointment. I did research and talked with people and did eventually end up getting it. But I’m sure a lot of young women don’t have as reasonable a mother as I do, and it’s a crappy feeling having major medical decisions for you, especially when you’re at that in-between age where you can think for yourself but aren’t emancipated.

  4. Musician makes an interesting point about the power parents have to make this medical decision. I saw some health care professional, a woman, on tv last week (I’m wracking my brain to recall on what show…) who said she recommends that all parents get their daughters immunized at age 11. The soundbite was something to the effect of: “I tell everyone to get their daughters the vaccine. Don’t tell her what it’s for, it’s just another shot.”

    I find that rather chilling, but at the same time, is it worse than the alternatives? Would it be better to foist a complex, sex-related decision on young girls who may not be ready? Or instead to take the risk that girls will be exposed to HPV early, before they reach an age where the choice is more appropriately theirs to make?

    It’s a Catch-22 for some parents, I suppose. How tempting to just have it done without the girl’s awareness. (By the way, the difference between ages 11 and 16 is huge in my mind, but not in everyone’s.)

    So, which consequence is more damaging: to NOT have her vaccinated so she can decide when she’s older, only to have her get exposed to HPV before she knows the choice is hers to make…or…to GET the vaccination for an unsuspecting child and have her grow to realize this decision about her body was taken from her?

    Let’s just all hope that middle schools don’t start requiring girls to have it!

  5. I agree with Kekla — it’s odd to me that a vaccine that was created to protect against a sexually transmitted disease is being given to people without an age-appropriate conversation about sex. At the end of the day, people are treating the vaccine against HPV as a logical substitute for a conversation about safe-sex practices. And that, to me, is CRAZY.

    I also think that 11 is entirely too young, although I am sure there are girls engaging in sexual that young somewhere out there, so it’s hard to make a call on this one. I do, however, think that if you’re thinking about taking your daughter to get the shot, make sure you’re already talking to her about sex and helping her understand all the angles and implications of reproductive decisions — it’s never too early to start empowering women and support the choices they make for their bodies.

  6. it should say “girls engaging in sexual BEHAVIOR that young somewhere out there” — oops, grammar and vocab.

  7. I also haven’t gotten the vaccine yet because seriously, it’s just so new. And feel free to call me paranoid, but the medical community has a pretty long history of not fully researching stuff when it’s going to be used on women. I just shudder to think that so many people are rushing to get the vaccine and we don’t know if it’s going to have horrible side effects in the future. I can’t remember the name of it, but does anyone else remember the ‘vitamin supplement’ they gave pregnant women back in like the 40-50s where the side effects later showed up on the baby when they were 20ish (the side effect was cervical and uterine cancer). This is what terrifies me-what if we’re giving all these 12 yr old girls a vaccine that will make them infertile or give them or their children cancer? *shudder*

    What really bugs me is that I’ve been to multiple doctors and none would discuss whether or not I actually NEED it at this point in time, they just went on and on about how awesome it is and how all women should get it. When I would ultimately decide that no, at this moment I’d rather not have it, they’d all tell me something along the lines of “fine, but you’re the one choosing to leave yourself at risk for cervical cancer”. Which, as you pointed out no, I’m not since Gardasil doesn’t actually prevent cervical cancer, just the strains of HPV linked to it. I hate hearing medical professionals talk about this like it’s a magical cancer cure when it isn’t and I hate hate hate that they’re misleading women and parents into thinking that it will absolutely prevent cervical cancer, when it won’t.

  8. After what my daughter went through with HPV (including surgery) and what I experienced myself (numerous colposcopies)…I wish the vaccine had been available much, much earlier. My daughter is 24 and she is still waiting to see if she has to have another surgery…and to see if she will ever be able to have children.

  9. Kekla-

    That’s great to hear that it’s subsidized in NYC. I’m glad some people recognize that the price of Gardasil may prevent people from making the choice to begin with.

    And yeah, I’m not entirely surprised that the CDC has vaccination goals. Something about the wording just bothered me. I’m not entirely sure why.

  10. Maybe it’s a different vaccine they’re using here in Denmark. Maybe it’s a different HPV vaccine I partook in the testing of. However, it had already been proven that it worked against HPV, which I’d already been infected with, so they needed to test of it worked against cervical cancer as well, and they found that it does.

    Yes, it’s an HPV vaccine, but it does help prevent cervical cancer.

  11. newslang –

    Your comment also reminds me of thalidomide, that drug doctors prescribed for morning sickness, that cause severe fetal deformities.

    What really bugs me is that I’ve been to multiple doctors and none would discuss whether or not I actually NEED it at this point in time, they just went on and on about how awesome it is and how all women should get it. When I would ultimately decide that no, at this moment I’d rather not have it, they’d all tell me something along the lines of “fine, but you’re the one choosing to leave yourself at risk for cervical cancer”.

    Ugh, I KNOW! It drives me crazy! Just ugh. I know I’m young, but I have an advanced degree, pay my bills, and have a pretty good job. And yet somehow I’m not competent to make important choices about my own body?

  12. At the end of the day, people are treating the vaccine against HPV as a logical substitute for a conversation about safe-sex practices. And that, to me, is CRAZY.

    You know, I never really thought about that, but you’re right. *shudder*

  13. I got the shot in Novembber 2007. In Feburary i started vomiting daily, had high blood pressue, kidney issues, abdominal pain, headaches, was blacking out and many more symptoms. I was in and out of the hospital for about 3 months. I still to this day suffer the side effects of this horrible shot. Luckily I was one of the lucky few that found help right away. Though the medical doctors told me I was faking I started finding answers from a nutritionalist in Califronia. He has helped me get a lot better. If any mothers read this and need advice on how to help their daughter please email me at or my mother at If you dont need to get the shot dont…. it is not worth the risk. at least do the research before coming to your desicion.

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