No Gardasil, No Papers: Immigrant Women and the HPV Vaccine

Wire Tap Magazine

By Naima Coster, April 22, 2009

Op-Ed: A new mandate requiring all female immigrants to receive an expensive new vaccine raises questions.

“Choice” is the marketing theme for Gardasil, a vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). For women who are American citizens, Gardasil is a choice; for women who are immigrants, the vaccine is a federal mandate upon which their presence in this country depends.

As of July 2008, female immigrants between the ages of 11 and 26 who seek to adjust their citizenship status are required to receive the vaccine. Gardasil markets itself as part of a sexual health revolution for empowered, educated young women and girls — from their promotional TV spot, “I Chose,” to their website which boasts, “We chose to help protect ourselves…. Now the choice is yours!”

But the message that the vaccine is a way for all young women to protect themselves and make decisions about their own sexual health is partial and false; for immigrant women, the vaccine represents the policing of their bodies.

The mandate is a disturbing marriage between anti-immigrant policy and the capitalist ambitions of pharmaceutical giant, Merck, which produces the vaccine. Merck will be cashing checks every time an immigrant woman or girl seeks citizenship in the United States.

Moreover, enforced vaccination is yet another federal measure to police the bodies of immigrant women. These are women who are already subject to deportation, detention, militaristic border control, raids and other brutal enforcement tactics. Now, sexual health regulations require female immigrants to exchange their freedom to make decisions about their own bodies for American citizenship status.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.