In reporting on a vaccine that immunizes younger women from a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, KUSA 9News' Dr. Stephanie Clements uncritically repeated the conservative talking point that providing the vaccine could encourage sexual activity. However, she failed to note also that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends girls be given the vaccine before they become sexually active to protect against the virus.
In a February 19 report about the availability of the drug Gardasil®, which immunizes women against certain types of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), KUSA 9News medical expert Dr. Stephanie Clements uncritically reported the conservative talking point that "[s]ome groups are opposed to offering" the vaccine "to younger women, saying it may encourage sexual activity." Clements, however, failed to note the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that girls be given the vaccine before becoming sexually active, when they would be "exposed to the viruses."
Gardasil is "considered highly effective in preventing infections that are the cause of most cervical cancers," according to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As noted in a June 29, 2006, press release, ACIP "recommend[s] that a newly licensed vaccine designed to protect against human papillomavirus virus (HPV) be routinely given to girls when they are 11-12 years old." The release stated that "[t]he ACIP recommendation also allows for vaccination of girls beginning at nine years old as well as vaccination of girls and women 13-26 years old." As the press release also advises, "The vaccine should be administered before onset of sexual activity (i.e., before women are exposed to the viruses), but females who are sexually active should still be vaccinated."
Clements' reporting echoed the position of such conservative groups as Colorado Right to Life regarding the HPV vaccine. A February 1 Rocky Mountain News article about Senate Bill 80, which would require "about 30,000 middle-school girls in Colorado [to] be vaccinated against" HPV, reported that "Colorado Right to Life and Father Bill Carmody with the Catholic Dioceses in Colorado Springs blasted the measure, saying it will promote sexual activity." The News also reported the comments of Colorado Right to Life spokesman Ed Hanks, who said, "We should not pretend that every young girl is at risk for this disease ... The best way to prevent the disease is to encourage our kids to wait to have sex until marriage."
Similarly, The Denver Post in a February 1 article reported that "opponents said it crosses a new line of government mandates and could encourage sexual promiscuity in teenagers." The article also quoted Hanks as saying, "[S]ex outside of marriage will actually increase."
In contrast to the 9News segment, a February 20 report by KMGH 7News' Christine Chang clearly presented the official medical position regarding the HPV vaccine, stating that "doctors recommend girls get vaccinated before they become sexually active -- ideally around age 11 or 12."
From the February 19 broadcast of KUSA's 9News at 5 p.m.:
DR. STEPHANIE CLEMENTS: And Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains says now, the vaccine that protects against cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. Twenty million Americans are infected with HPV and it can be sexually transmitted. Women 19 and older who do not have health insurance may qualify to get Gardasil -- that's the vaccine -- for free at Planned Parenthood. Some groups are opposed to offering it to younger women, saying it may encourage sexual activity.
From the February 20 broadcast of KMGH's 7News at 5 p.m.:
ANNE TRUJILLO [co-anchor]: New tonight on 7News at 5, some health care experts are hailing the new cervical cancer vaccine as a step towards wiping out some types of HPV. Gardasil is now available and 7News anchor Christine Chang tells us what parents of teens need to know.
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CHANG: After-school hours at the Davis house are usually filled with small talk. But occasionally mother and daughter tackle tough issues, like sex. So when Ann Davis learned a vaccine was available that prevent the human papillomavirus, she wanted to make sure her daughter was protected for life.
ANN DAVIS: The virus itself is so widespread, I just can't think that this could do anything but good.
CHANG: In fact, most sexually active people will get HPV sometime in their lives -- although most strains don't cause cancer. Doctors recommend girls get vaccinated before they become sexually active -- ideally around age 11 or 12.
PAMELA MURRAY, M.D. [Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh]: I get two questions. One is, has anybody said, you know, anything negative? And then, should my child get it, and how soon can they get it?
CHANG: Some parents may have reservations about the vaccine, thinking teens may feel safer about having sex. But Quela Davis says that's silly.
QUELA DAVIS (13-YEAR-OLD): You still can get pregnant, you know, you can still have other diseases. It's just this one thing that you're protected from. That's not a, say -- that's not like a green light to go have sex at all.
CHANG: And doctors say it's a way to protect young women before they face a threat to their health. Christine Chang, 7News.