The human papillomavirus or HPV causes the most common sexually transmitted infections or STI such as genital warts. About  6.2 million cases in the United States are diagnosed each year. The more dangerous strains are also known to be the cause of cervical cancer. Studies show that most sexually active individuals have had an HPV infection at one point of their lives.

HPV is actually a group of over 100 viruses about 37 of which are sexually transferable. The ones that cause genital warts are considered low-risk strains while nineteen are considered high-risk: 16 and 18 specifically virtually cause all cases of cervical cancer. These high-risk strains may also cause genital and anal cancers.

hpvvirusA HPV vaccine has been developed which is designed to be administered to girls as young as nine years old.  A National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended in June 2006 that routine vaccination for girls between the ages of 11 and 12 is recommended in the United States. However, current practices are implemented state by states.  Several states in the US in   have a public interest in preventing HPV caused infections and  have  come out with legislation to mandate the public administering of the vaccine known as Gardasil to all school girls between twelve and eighteen.  In October 2010 at least 19 states have some type of proposed HPV related legislation.

However, this move has been met with strong protest from parents and concerned citizens. The controversy is also proving to wane the initially wide-spread support for the vaccine.

Several reasons are cited for the opposition. Firstly, the vaccine has not been in the market for a long time and concerns on its long term effectiveness are arising. In tests conducted in Australia and US, the vaccine has been proven to be 100% effective against cervical cancer. However, three girls have been reported to die from the vaccine and investigations on these incidents are still ongoing.

Another concern is economic. Many are worried that the economic cost of the publicly administering the vaccine might affect other public health programs. Some have expressed that the vaccine may not represent a public health necessity and so public funds must not be used to promote and fund it.

The authors who reviewed the scientific evidence on Gardasil said, “HPV will not be the last disease that state legislatures will attempt to prevent through mandatory vaccination. This is a good time to reevaluate the criteria that should be used to mandate vaccination of children as a condition of school attendance.”

The issue shows the importance of public support in forwarding the vaccine, but the controversy does not devalue the vaccine in itself. Many specialists still urge parents to get their daughters the vaccine since cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women and more than 4,000 die from it every year in US alone. Worldwide it is estimated there are over 260,000 cases of cervical cancer. On top of this, cervical cancer does not have obvious symptoms in its early stages and often by the time it is detected, the cancer may have already advanced to an inoperable stage. This is also why sexually active females between eighteen and sixty are advised to have regular pap smear tests at least once a year.