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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