Katie Couric brings attention to the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine is in the news again. This time it is Katie Couric’s daytime talk show that is shining the spotlight. And, I am thankful.

A medicine that prevents cancer is worth giving airtime.

In the segment, Couric chose to highlight the experience of 3 mother-daughter duos and their experience with the HPV vaccine. One story ended in loss, one in pain, and one in quiet confidence. Couric also highlighted advice from two physicians who held opposing views on the necessity of vaccination.

Although it seemed that Katie was trying to stir up a controversy, I felt the show was rather soft, lackluster, and fairly uninteresting. There were (expected) inaccuracies – Matthew Herper of Forbes covers them well — and random verbal jabs, but I was happy to have the HPV vaccine get some stage time. We need to be talking about HPV-associated cancers and our ability to protect our children from them.

After all, a medication that prevents cancer? The concept alone is pretty remarkable.

When watching popular talk shows discuss medical information, I recognize that I am privileged to have a broader understanding of evidence-based science than the average mom. After listening to tragic stories about loss and pain, I am professionally trained to step back and look at the event with compassion, calmness, and clarity. As a result, doubt and unease don’t creep in easily. I have the scientific method on my side.

As a parent, however, I understand why stories are engaging. Listening to another mother share how she believes she made the “wrong choice” will make us pause, simply because we share in the parenting experience. We never would want to do something to our child that could put them in harm’s way. We want to make our decisions carefully, and rationally. We want to know more.

What remains is a challenging blend for those of us who are parents and on the front lines of cancer protection. While I am able to sympathize with a parent’s fear in giving a vaccine that was not offered when they were a child, my lens is laser-focused on anything that can help us protect children from the suffering and loss that a death from cancer can bring.

I simply cannot shake the thoughts of patients I have seen who have suffered from what is now a vaccine-preventable disease.

As a result, I will continue to lean into the guidance and leadership of expert vaccinologists, epidemiologists, and researchers who make recommendations for our children. I remain an active, responsible consumer of what they offer. My brain remains engaged while I keep thoughts of my kids at heart.

I believe routine Pap screening is important for all women; getting help from health professionals, family, and friends about every medical decision is important; and doing what we can with the best scientific evidence we know today to prevent our sons and daughters from disease is imperative.

At the end of the day, will my son and daughter be getting protected from HPV-associated cancers by a safe and effective medication?

My answer continues to be yes. And, I am thankful.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

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  • Chiked

    Another physician promoting a vaccine….Gee what a surprise. Here are some facts for people who do not believe a drug or vaccine cures everything.

    1) Greater than 90% of cases HPV infections clear on their own so strengthening your immunity is extremely effective: good organic food, exercise and sleep.

    2) HPV is spread by contact and sexual activity, so teach your kids about using condoms and dare I say abstinence.

    3) STDs, smoking and long term birth control usage are significant risk factors for chronic HPV infections so ditto as above.

    Lastly, as I step onto my soap box, I invite all parents who believe that this vaccine is about “scientific evidence” to read up the California bill AB499. This bill basically allows children as young as 12 years to get vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases like hepatitis and HPV WITHOUT ANY parental consent. Read about Merck’s involvement in getting this bill passed. It is not about science people. It is corporate greed. Not even your children will be spared.

    • Eric Thompson

      I guess you should move back to the ‘old country’ and don’t vaccinate against polio, typhoid or anything else. Live naturally.

    • EE Smith

      Good nutritious food, plenty of exercise and sleep, safe sex, and not smoking are all still really great ways to harden yourself against disease. Add the appropriate vaccines to the mix, and you’re giving your children the best shot at being healthy as you can! Healthy lifestyles and vaccines aren’t mutually exclusive, we should be aiming to promote both!

      But I do agree with your concern about medical treatment being given to children without parental consent. Children’s vaccination schedules should be an issue for parents and pediatricians to work out, if the government wants to help out at all it should be through education, not usurping parental rights.

  • ninguem

    Is Katie Couric going to televise her colposcopy, the way she did her colonoscopy?

  • EE Smith

    “At the end of the day, will my son and daughter…”
    “our sons and daughters still need to be taught…”

    I like the fact that both the author and you included sons in the equation. So much of everything I hear about reproductive health seems to put all the focus on women, what they must do, what their responsibilities are. Thank you!

  • disqus_OSH3u3yWoj

    Cervical cancer is rare (LIFETIME risk is only 0.7%) and so it’s overkill to vaccinate against it (not to mention risking the short and long-term side effects of the vaccine). As Chiked stated, most HPV infections clear on their own. And any resulting dysplasia normally does too. If it persists, it typically progresses slowly and is easily treated.

    Since ovarian cancer has a higher lifetime risk for the average woman (about 1.4%) than cervical cancer do you believe or recommend that women have their ovaries removed (castration) since there is no vaccine for ovarian cancer? Unfortunately, female organ removal is grossly overused. 76% of hysterectomies do not meet ACOG criteria and more than 50% of women lose healthy ovaries (the equivalent of a man’s testicles) at the time of hysterectomy.

    We need to stop the over-treatment and harm in health care. Everyone would be able to afford insurance if we would get rid of the waste and harm that drives up costs!!

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