Why Are HPV Vaccination Rates So Low in White New Zealand Families? Because “White Girls Don’t Have Sex” March 18, 2015

Why Are HPV Vaccination Rates So Low in White New Zealand Families? Because “White Girls Don’t Have Sex”

I’ve heard atheists mock the idea of a virgin birth but, growing up in fundamentalist circles where sex was considered so dirty that even discussing it in the context of sex ed was unthinkable, I know better.

In that environment, you see a lot of “virgin births” and pregnant teenagers — kids, fully committed to “purity,” but whose sex-phobic indoctrination didn’t stand a chance in the face of hormones, and whose complete lack of knowledge left them unprepared for what could happen. Kids who would never have dared admit anything different… until it was too late.

While it was particularly pronounced in that environment, the idea that “good girls” — “my girls” — don’t have sex isn’t confined to fundamentalists. And its impact is pretty noticeable. For instance, the most widely offered reason for why parents reject the HPV vaccine for their daughters? It isn’t needed.

Despite the fact that HPV can cause cervical cancer, parents are opting out simply because they don’t believe their daughter could be at risk for a sexually transmitted infection.

In New Zealand, some 80% of adults will be infected by HPV; of those people, some will develop cervical cancer. Yet immunization rates are lower than either the United Kingdom or Australia.

Researcher Karen Page believes that race might be a factor. White New Zealanders, she notes, are less likely to let their daughters get the immunization than any other group. Further, wealthy white parents seem even more reluctant than their poorer, whites counterparts.

Data from the National Immunisation Register shows 71 per cent of Pacific Island Year 8 girls were vaccinated last year, 63 of Asian students, 62 per cent Maori and just 52 per cent of “other” students — a group comprised mostly of New Zealand Europeans, Page said.

And Whanganui District Health Board data suggests well-off parents aren’t getting their children vaccinated, with a 74 per cent consent rate at the regions’ low decile schools compared with 54 per cent at high decile schools.

Although there was no definitive national data on HPV vaccination by decile rating, Page said it was likely this trend would be reflected across the board.

So why are parents rejecting immunizations that could save their daughters’ lives? For the same reason so many Southern Baptists refuse to discuss condoms or the pill: because that stuff is a problem for other people. But not my daughter.

Page believes that many parents think their daughters don’t need it because they’re not having sex.

“It’s the ‘white girls don’t have sex [theory] so white girls don’t need it’. That’s what it’s all about, I think,” she told the Herald on Sunday.

Wishful thinking is rarely helpful, but it can be downright dangerous when it forms the basis for making medical decisions. Parental reactions to the HPV vaccine seem to be an unfortunate case study in exactly that.

(Image via fortinbras on Flickr. Thanks to Dave for the link)

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