Reuters reports that the FDA has approved the HPV vaccine. This is great news.
However, the approval process does not end the controversy. Individual states need to decide whether to make HPV vaccination mandatory for admission to public schools, which is where the religious-right opposition to the vaccine, called Gardasil, will be felt the most:
Much of the outright resistance to the vaccine has already softened, particularly after some of those who questioned it were publicly assailed as advocating “virginity or death.” But some observers predict renewed controversy when individual states decide whether the shot should be required for school admission.
In October, [Hal] Wallis [a former obstetrician-gynecologist from Waxahachie, Texas, who is part of the conservative Physician's Consortium] appeared in a news release from the influential group Focus on the Family headlined, “Some question the ethics of a universal inoculation against a sexually transmitted disease.” Other conservative web sites posted similar concerns. A December blog on the Abstinence Clearinghouse declared: “Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let’s not encourage it by vaccinating 10-year-olds so they think they’re safe.”
Immunization studies have found that the best candidates for vaccination are girls around age 11 or 12, for biological and social reasons. A younger immune system may respond more robustly to the shot. And because about 30 percent of girls ages 15 to 17 already have had sex, public health officials want to immunize younger girls, before sexual exposure, during the time when HPV rates start to soar. Schools already are used as convenient depots for other health measures, including scoliosis checks and classes on teeth brushing.
Interestingly, Gardasil will not eliminate all forms of HPV, as it only protects against certain strains, and there is a second vaccine under development to immunize against other strains, which can also cause cervical cancer.
Merck predicts that if women worldwide are given the vaccine, cervical cancer deaths could drop by two-thirds. It is especially crucial that women in developing countries be protected from the virus, since they rarely receive screenings.
Now that the battle to get the vaccine approved has been won, the fight shifts to making sure that the vaccine becomes mandatory for school admission. There are several reasons why making the vaccine mandatory is important. First and foremost, universal vaccination — for both boys and girls — will do a great deal to eliminate the spread of the virus and to confer immunity on the herd (as with smallpox or polio or whooping cough or what have you). But then there’s the little matter of our fucked-up health care system here in the US — if a vaccine isn’t mandatory, insurance companies will do their damnedest not to cover it. I had to pay out of pocket, for instance, for my prophylactic tetanus shot prior to going to Louisiana because I wasn’t being treated for an injury for which a tetanus shot was indicated. Gardasil is not cheap, being a patented drug — it’s expected to cost $300 a dose. If it’s not covered by insurance, many parents may skip it, to the detriment of their daughters’ future health.
Public-health experts are watching the way the HPV vaccine controversy plays out because it’s seen as a dress rehearsal for other potential vaccines for sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV.
- Making It Universal Would Cut Down on the Slut-Punishing by zuzu August 1, 2006
- Common Sense Prevails by zuzu June 29, 2006
- Conservatives ask themselves, fight cancer or fight sex? by Jill October 17, 2012
- No Vaccines For Me, Thanks, I’ve Got Jesus As My Co-Pilot by Jill June 29, 2006
- Charlotte Allen Would Rather Her Daughters (and Yours) Have Cancer Than Sex. by zuzu July 1, 2006