By Mary Elizabeth Williams
It was a minor slip-up. But it changed her life in an instant.
We’d left the pediatrician’s office a mere two hours before the call came. On a recent sunny, summer afternoon, I’d brought my two daughters in for their annual physicals. They’d been weighed and measured and prodded and had blood drawn and received their shots and been handed lollipops at the end. We’d discovered my 11-year-old has grown 3 inches in the past year; my 7-year-old has grown 2. Their vision and hearing and vitals are all good. Two apparently clean bills of health — it was all a family could wish for. Their blood and urine tests, meanwhile, likely hadn’t even left for the lab yet. So why then was our doctor calling us back so soon? “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” she said. “The nurse gave your child the wrong vaccine.” At the end of the visit, my soon-to-be middle-schooler Lucy, my beautiful Harry Potter obsessive, was supposed to get the meningitis vaccine. Instead, for reasons still not fully clear to me, the nurse saw a preteen female in the chair, reached for the HPV vaccine Gardasil, and injected her.
Gardasil is a relatively new vaccine — it’s only been on the market five years. It’s generally administered to girls in early adolescence — sometime after the onset of puberty but before they become sexually active — in three doses over the course of roughly six months. It offers protection against the human papillomavirus, which, in certain strains, can lead to cervical cancer.
I’ve been following the HPV vaccine with interest for years, and read all about the clinical trials and potential risks with a keen personal investment in the story. Aside from the fact that I have two daughters, I, like a vast majority of sexually active women, have had the virus. Though I’ve never experienced any outward symptoms, the legacy of HPV has meant two LEEP procedures to rid my cervix of precancerous cells, and ongoing regular monitoring. Thanks to pap smears and routine checkups, cervical cancer is not nearly the threat it was even a generation ago. But if I could offer my daughters an extra degree of protection from what I’ve been through, both for their sakes and that of their future partners, wouldn’t I?
I would. But there’s a difference between offering a child something and insisting upon it. The little girls whose every meal and book and outfit were once mine to choose are becoming more autonomous young ladies every day. And though I believe in the logic of getting the HPV vaccine, I have also long felt strongly that any decision involving their future sexual lives should be theirs to make.
Now, however, because of a careless oversight, instead of having a considered, private dialogue about the pros and potential cons of the vaccine, I had to tell my firstborn — and her sister — that she’d been given something neither of us had ever asked for.
Read the entire article here.