Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 4, 2023

We are pleased to learn that so many Hopkins students have taken advantage of the availability of Gardasil at the Student Health and Wellness center. Gardasil is a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most prevalent diseases affecting both men and women all over the world. These students are taking an important step toward protecting their health and the health of their sexual partners. It is also heartening to know that, as of next year, the costly vaccine will be covered by the student health insurance plan.

Because JHU is an internationally recognized leader in the field of public health, we think the University ought to play a role in ensuring that Gardasil, or improved versions of the vaccine, be added to the list of mandatory vaccinations. We realize that there are arguments against elevating an HPV vaccine to mandatory status, but the reasons in favor are compelling.

There are those who claim that if HPV vaccination were mandatory, the result would be greater sexual promiscuity. But this argument is a fatuous one that blames a useful medical innovation for matters quite disconnected from its use. It is a simple truth that most physically mature humans pursue sex. If parents are concerned that their children will engage in sexual activity of which they do not approve, they should attempt to teach them values they consider appropriate.

HPV is a health issue. It should be treated as such, without the interference of misdirected moralizing. Once again: HPV does not cause promiscuity. It prevents a medical condition. The roots of sexual promiscuity lie elsewhere and the problem, if you can call it that, must be solved through other means.

We have greater sympathy for those who oppose HPV vaccination on the basis of perceived trampling of civil liberties. However, there are abundant precedents that suggest a mandatory vaccination is justified. Every American child is supposed to be vaccinated for diseases such as measles, tetanus and diphtheria, and the effect of doing so is clear. These illnesses, once a scourge upon the populace, are now all but eliminated from the United States. Eventually, if a sufficiently large portion of the public is immunized, then the disease will be eradicated and we will no longer need such vaccinations. Polio and smallpox are, perhaps, the two best-known examples. HPV is different, of course, and may be harder to eliminate than other diseases, but the potential is there.

Making an HPV vaccine mandatory is a good policy. We've little doubt that the committed personnel of the Bloomberg School of Public Health and other organs of the University will do their part to convince opponents of this standpoint.

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