Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Immigrants and Gardasil

The LA Times has probably the best and most balanced coverage (except for that part about the bogus side effects) of the proposed mandatory administration of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine that can help prevent cervical cancer, to immigrant women. Feministe did a pretty definitive takedown of this policy, but something in the Times article stuck out to me:
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly recommended the vaccine for 11- and 12-year-old girls, with catch-up shots up to age 26. (The vaccine works best if given before a young woman is sexually active and may have already contracted the virus.)

A 1996 immigration law directs the Citizenship and Immigration Services to require that new immigrants receive inoculations that the CDC's immunization committee recommends for U.S. residents.

"It's not really a decision of ours," said immigration service spokeswoman Sharon Rummery. "We can't cherry-pick the recommendations."

Foreigners applying for permanent residency must get medical exams and vaccines against such highly contagious diseases as measles, meningitis and polio.

CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said that his agency's immunization committee, an advisory panel of physicians, did not consider the immigration implications of its decision.

"They made the recommendation based on the effectiveness and importance of the vaccine," he said. "That's their charge, and not immigration."
To me this makes a lot of sense. The CDC recommended the vaccine as mandatory for young women, something feminists disagree about, and because the CDC recommends it for American women, the immigration officials are obligated to categorize it as mandatory for immigrants.

But here's the tricky part. Feminists work really hard at making sure women have autonomy over their bodies. Because Gardasil is a vaccine for a sexual transmitted infection, something that can lead to cervical cancer, it becomes strange to tell women what to do with their bodies. It makes sense that vaccines are most effective when widely used, but the part about giving women direction over their sexual lives brings up all kinds of icky memories from when women didn't have autonomy over their bodies (many still don't today).

So I'm not sure where that leaves me. I'm generally in favor of girls getting the vaccine at a young age, preferably before they become sexually active (and they will at some point), but why do I have an impulse to reject the same standard for immigrant women? Possibly because the hypocrisy on the right of requiring it for the "other" women but simultaneously trying to shield their daughters from such a scary vaccine (and the scary thought of sex). Perhaps this is why so many feminists have taken an across-the-board anti-Gardasil stance until we know more about the vaccine. But somehow I still think it's a good idea to do everything you can to prevent cervical cancer.

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