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Activists worry
that conservatives will oppose HPV vaccinations

Activists worry
that conservatives will oppose HPV vaccinations

Activists say some conservative groups claim HPV vaccinations promote sexual activity

Although the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Merck's new cervical cancer vaccine that prevents infection with strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus linked to the majority of cervical cancer cases, activists worry that conservative groups will fight widespread vaccination of girls. They say religious conservatives are already claiming the shot will encourage girls to become sexually active.

"Our expectation is that the far-right machine will gear up its disinformation and fearmongering tactics, all aimed at reducing availability of the vaccine [by threatening funding] and clouding the facts regarding the safety and the need for this vaccine," says Julie F. Kay, a staff attorney at Legal Momentum, an advocacy and public-policy group focusing on the rights of women and girls. "The fight to bring this vital vaccine to women is far from over," she says.

Many conservative and religious groups say they support any vaccine that can reduce the risks of developing cancer, but oppose mandatory vaccination of girls and young women because of the sexual nature of HPV infection. They say a girl's parents should be able to decline vaccinating their child if they have moral objections to the vaccine or believe it would encourage her to engage in sex because of a lessened fear of contracting HPV. Other right-wing groups completely oppose the vaccine, saying it would promote promiscuity.

But activists and health care advocates aim to educate the public about the importance of vaccination and of preventing cervical cancer, which kills about 4,000 U.S. women each year. "The health of women is at stake--we have a precious opportunity to save hundreds of women from a potentially deadly form of cancer," says Kay.

Merck's vaccine, Gardasil, prevents infection with four types of HPV linked to more than 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts. The vaccine, approved by the FDA for girls and women ages 9 to 26, is given in three doses. (The Advocate)

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