Sunday, October 30, 2005

HPV Vaccine in The Post

Tomorrow morning's Washington Post has an article on a topic we've talked about here before. There is a very common virus, called human papillomavirus or HPV, which can be spread through many kinds of contact, including sexual intercourse. HPV is a primary cause of cervical cancer. Recently, vaccines have been developed which seem to completely block HPV infection.

This is crazy, I think you'll agree:
A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates who want to use the shots aggressively to prevent thousands of malignancies and social conservatives who say immunizing teenagers could encourage sexual activity.
Groups working to reduce the toll of the cancer are eagerly awaiting the vaccine and want it to become part of the standard roster of shots that children, especially girls, receive just before puberty.

Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine. Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Injected With a Social Issue: Some Fear a Shot For Teens Could Encourage Sex

Can you believe that?
"What the Bush administration has done has taken this coterie of people and put them into very influential positions in Washington," said James A. Morone Jr., a professor of political science at Brown University. "And it's having an effect in debates like this."

The vaccine protects women against strains of a ubiquitous germ called the human papilloma virus. Although many strains of the virus are innocuous, some can cause cancerous lesions on the cervix (the outer end of the uterus), making them the primary cause of this cancer in the United States. Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing more than 3,700.

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains. Merck, whose vaccine is further along, plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year for approval to sell the shots.

The thinking is that if the vaccine is given to children before they have become sexually active, they won't be infected with the virus when they come into contact with it -- which nearly everyone eventually does.
Officials of both companies noted that research indicates the best age to vaccinate would be just before puberty to make sure children are protected before they become sexually active. The vaccine would probably be targeted primarily at girls but could also be used on boys to limit the spread of the virus.

"If you really want to have cervical cancer rates fall as much as possible as quickly as possible, then you want as many people to get vaccinated as possible," said Mark Feinberg, Merck's vice president of medical affairs and policy, noting that "school mandates have been one of the most effective ways to increase immunization rates."

That is a view being pushed by cervical cancer experts and women's health advocates.

"I would like to see it that if you don't have your HPV vaccine, you can't start high school," said Juan Carlos Felix of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who leads the National Cervical Cancer Coalition's medical advisory panel.

But that's only the sensible side of the discussion. Unfortunately, in these bizarre times, there are people who think it would be better to let a women get cancer.
"Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that, 'We expect you to be sexually active,' " said Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for Focus on the Family before being appointed to the ACIP in 2003, in a telephone interview.

Look, I don't know where these kinds of people come from, or how they got that way. Now they're in positions of power in the federal government, making medical decisions that affect all of us.


Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

And when an HIV vaccine is finally created they'll oppose its use as well, because that would also send a "subtle message." Right, anon?

October 31, 2005 7:32 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

I've said this before- you get the vaccine for HPV but how does that give a message that sex is okay? This vaccine does not protect against pregnancy, other STIs, it doesn't take away choice or remove all knowledge of family/religious guidance. I repeat myself but the idea that people shouldn't get this reminds me of the recent issue in Africa and Indonesia over polio vaccine. People were told it was a way for the non-Muslim west to destroy the fertility of the children getting the vaccine. Yes, it seems idiotic,right- well not more than not getting a vaccine that could save your child's life in the future.

And haven't we been told repeatedly by the "other side" that you can get HPV without having sex- so why would you not protect your children in any way you can? No doubt when the vaccine becaomse available, the right will spread lies about it so people who may not know any better will not allow their kids to have the vaccine-condemning some to a preventable death.

October 31, 2005 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dana and Andrea

What's that group that gave you guys advice on PR strategy? Is it NARAL? GLSEN? ACLU?

You kids need to come clean.

October 31, 2005 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so lazy, Anon.

Just do a google search for PR Consultants, call them all, ask who recently met with, and voila, you'll have your answer!

October 31, 2005 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I should just call up CRC and ask them since you think they've been spying on all your e-mail.


October 31, 2005 3:42 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

It was the RNC- but after the advice they gave Rove and Cheney- I admit it was an error. I'm pushing for Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter next time. I can't seem to get the hang of the big lie.

October 31, 2005 3:45 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Yes, it was the RNC, but I thought they were "Representatives for a New Curriculum." Sorry, my mistake.

October 31, 2005 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dana for President!

October 31, 2005 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, like STIs are the only reason that refrain people from having sex. That's such a naive point of view.

October 31, 2005 5:17 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Thanks for this important information, Jim. The more we expose the radically conservative views of opponents of comprehensive and inclusive health education curricula -- that protecting the health of sexually active teens isn't really the bottom line for them -- the better. They are more interested in pushing their ideology that abstinence until marriage is the only way to stay safe from unintended pregnancy and STDs than they are interetested in keeping teens healthy by informing them about the many ways to help protect themselves from both.

The HPV vaccine can protect women from cervical cancer and yet some on the far right believe women should forgo this vaccine. Numerous studies have shown that about half of all US high school students become sexually active before graduation. Immunizing US teens against HPV will ensure that most of the sexually active half will be protected from cervical cancer due to HPV infection.

The public needs to know that radical conservatives want to withhold an effective cancer-stopping vaccine to the detriment of women's health due to their irrational belief that giving it might change women's behavior. It's as if they believe that teaching a new driver to use a seatbelt might cause the driver to take more risks rather than impart the importance of using care when behind the wheel.

And it's not just American women who would be effected by withholding an HPV vaccine. The Reproductive Health Outlook website reports, "HPV immunization would offer a long-term solution to cervical cancer especially in developing countries, where it is especially difficult to effectively implement screening and treatment programs that reduce cervical cancer deaths."


November 01, 2005 9:11 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Good post, Chris, especially that line about seat belts.

November 01, 2005 3:55 PM  

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