Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Keywords

Cervical cancer, HPV, Vaccination, Risk, Public health

Abstract

Many in the biomedical community have praised the recently released Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, for having the potential to significantly reduce the disease burden of cervical cancer and genital warts. However, complex intersections of ideology, morality, and politics have made this new vaccine considerably contested, particularly as public debate has turned to the ethics of state-mandated HPV vaccination for 11-12 year old girls. Subsequently, the extent to which mandatory vaccinations are accepted by parents and implications regarding the infringement of these coercive measures on their rights to make health care decisions for their children has become powerfully positioned in public discourse. This research seeks to examine how mothers of girls conceptualize Gardasil and the potential mandates in order to illuminate the multi-faceted socio-cultural context of risk embedded within this immunization. Major themes that emerged from in-depth interviews include diverse perceptions of the risk of HPV for their daughter(s) specifically, children as actual or potential sexual beings, concerns about vaccine safety, mistrust of pharmaceutical companies and government collusion, and conceiving of vaccination against HPV as imbued with a either a moral or cancer prevention subtext. The need for collaboration and communication between the medical and governmental institutions who promote vaccines such as Gardasil and the public who politically and socially consumes them has been apparent throughout my research. Applied anthropologists have a unique role to play by situating diverse stakeholder perspectives across interdisciplinary fields in order to develop more appropriate and informed policies.

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