The Truth About HPV Vaccinations
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The Truth About HPV Vaccinations

An attack on the HPV vaccine is an attack on our children's health.

Courtesy of the author
Courtesy of the author

First came the “PEACH pamphlet”, a low-tech, anti-vaccine handout that circulated for the past few years throughout New York’s ultra-Orthodox communities. It has been blamed for low measles vaccination rates, resulting in 312 measles cases in Rockland County alone this past year. Now there’s the Mishpacha article that’s targeting the HPV vaccine, which prevents sexually-transmitted viruses that cause cervical, anal and throat cancers. 

The article has been getting a lot of attention on social media over the past few weeks, and I’m sure its blatant inaccuracies have scared many parents away from this vital and potentially life saving shot. 

The author, Yonoson Rosenblum, writes that he’s “convinced that not a single Orthodox parent would willingly consent to the vaccination against HPV for their child.” Well, I consider myself Orthodox, and my three children all have received the vaccine. 

He also writes that all 20 of his grandchildren have completed their vaccine schedules. So, I take that to mean any over Bar and Bat Mitzvah age must have received the HPV vaccine since it’s on the federal government’s recommended schedule

The author, Yonoson Rosenblum, writes that he’s “convinced that not a single Orthodox parent would willingly consent to the vaccination against HPV for their child.” Well, I consider myself Orthodox, and my three children all have received the vaccine. 

Rosenblum writes a weekly column for Mishpacha and has a law degree from Yale, but the medical inaccuracies in his article and lack of any citation or attribution for his outrageous claims raises the question of how Mishpacha can honestly call its magazine “journalism” for varying streams within the Orthodox Jewish world that sets “the status quo.” 

Full disclosure: I’m a former health reporter for the Boston Globe where editorial policies dictated that every minor inaccuracy, even in someone’s academic title, warranted a newspaper correction and an email to the paper’s editor explaining how the mistake was made. Given these standards, there is no way this article would have ever been published in a true journalistic publication. A smart editor would have asked for sources and verification via attributions.

Among the many errors in his article, Rosenblum writes “HPV vaccines may lead to increased cervical cancer.” The uncited journal article, on which I presume he based this claim, was published anonymously in an obscure medical journal and was retracted a month after publication. I did a Medline search and found no other studies related to an increased risk of cervical cancer caused by the HPV vaccine besides that one.

I did a Medline search and found no other studies related to an increased risk of cervical cancer caused by the HPV vaccine besides that one. What I did find was this August study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 92 percent of cancers caused by HPV could be prevented by the HPV vaccine.

What I did find was this August study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 92 percent of cancers caused by HPV could be prevented by the HPV vaccine. The CDC concluded that the data underscored the need to increase the HPV vaccination rate to 80 percent nationwide to prevent a host of HPV-related cancers including: cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, tongue and tonsils). 

“The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause these cancers,” says the CDC. Yet, only half of teens nationwide have received all of the recommended doses.

Rosenblum contends that Orthodox parents shouldn’t be compelled to give their kids a shot that protects them from a sexually transmitted disease (STD). 

“The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause these cancers,” says the CDC. Yet, only half of teens nationwide have received all of the recommended doses. Rosenblum contends that Orthodox parents shouldn’t be compelled to give their kids a shot that protects them from a sexually transmitted disease (STD). 

Once again, his argument would be torn apart by opposing counsel since babies already receive a vaccine against an STD. It’s called Hepatitis B, and it’s given at birth.

But let’s set all this aside and pretend that the Rosenblum hadn’t riddled his column with ignorant statements and scientific inaccuracies. Let’s pretend he didn’t write “there is no upside” to the HPV vaccine and that “following a chaste and monogamous Torah life” is a “far cheaper, less invasive and safer” way to prevent cervical cancer than vaccination. 

One can’t help but wonder whether he would have written the same words had he realized that the vaccine also protected boys against cancer. Should a chaste-all-his-life ben-Torah be condemned to infection with a life-threatening throat cancer just because he married a girl who perhaps wasn’t quite as chaste before marriage? What about couples who divorce and remarry others who have had multiple partners? How about a woman who becomes a widow? Should rape victims be forced to contend with an HPV infection given to them by their rapist? 

Let’s pretend he didn’t write “there is no upside” to the HPV vaccine and that “following a chaste and monogamous Torah life” is a “far cheaper, less invasive and safer” way to prevent cervical cancer than vaccination. One can’t help but wonder whether he would have written the same words had he realized that the vaccine also protected boys against cancer.

I raise these absurd questions purely for the purpose of challenging the uninformed assertions raised by his column. For the record, I firmly believe every teen should have access to this vaccine. Our children need to make wise choices concerning their sexuality that hopefully will hew to halachic standards because they are desiring to do G-d’s will. Fear of cancer from a withheld vaccine should not be a motivating factor for chastity.

I fear the unintended consequence of Rosenblum’s column will yield not to an increase in monogamy among Orthodox young people but to a stubborn continued rise in HPV-related cancers and deaths from those cancers. I reached out last week to the author and the Mishpacha publisher to express my concerns with this article and have not yet received a response.

Deborah Kotz is a former journalist and freelance writer from Silver Spring, MD.

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