The issue of whether or not to vaccinate young girls for the HPV virus is controversial. A recent editorial in the Sandusky Register questioned whether it should be a decision even made by government. The editorial board is absolutely right in questioning governmental practices.
Just because government CAN do something doesn't mean it SHOULD. Daily, this agency balances civil rights with safety issues. Our system has checks and balances. Public oversight -- such as concerns from the media -- is just one of those checks.
This agency will not drag any child to the Health Department for a vaccination against a parent's wishes. HPV vaccination procedures have been developed through a lengthy, thought-out process including research. The procedure for the HPV vaccination has been reviewed by the Erie County Health Department and Erie County Family Court. A copy of any of our procedures, including this one, is available upon request.
Each child coming into agency custody receives a health screening. Under the new HPV procedures, girls will be evaluated to determine whether the vaccine is right for them. If it is, parents will be asked for permission to vaccinate their child. Arrangements are made for the parent to meet with the Erie County Health Department staff to answer any questions.
In custody cases, Court oversight is regular and essential. If parents disagree with the vaccination but the agency believes the vaccination appropriate, the Juvenile Court will hear both sides, weighing civil rights and the best interest of the child. This is the same process used for any decision in which there is disagreement. For example, cases in which a blood transfusion is necessary for a child, but the procedure conflicts with parents' religious beliefs is reviewed by the Court.
For this agency, the issue of vaccinating children against HPV is not a question of encouraging early sexual activity. During my 18 years as director, I have seen case after case in which sexual activity was not the child's choice. Parents do all they can to protect their children from sexual predators, but sex abuse happens.
It is a tragedy when a young child is abused. The tragedy is greatly compounded if, during the course of the abuse, the child gets a disease which may lead to adulthood cancer.
From a more personal side, I am a cancer survivor. The 18 months of treatment, including six surgeries, chemo and radiation were very, very painful. Trying to be "normal" during treatment, I would pick myself up off the bathroom floor where I'd spent part of the night, put on clothes -- including a hat on my bald head -- and go to work. I even worked, sporting a total of 46 stitches. And I was one of the lucky ones -- I lived.
Cancer is not a life path I would choose for anyone. My responsibility as a director, as a social worker and as a human being, is to try to make life easier for others. If I can prevent even one child from going through the pain of cancer as an adult, I feel an obligation to do so.