This is such a big deal, and so controversial right now in Austin, Texas, I feel I have to weigh in on it.
Here is what I’ve been able to glean from all of the propaganda that everyone on all sides of the issue has been throwing around:
1. The HPV vaccine protects against 3 or 4 of the most common lines of HPV. There are more than 100 lines all told.
2. It is unclear whether:
a. 50% – 70% of all cervical cancer and 90% of all genital warts are caused by all of the lines of HPV
b. 50% – 70% of all cervical cancer and 90% of all genital warts are caused by the 3 or 4 lines of HPV that this vaccine protects against
3. Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken some amount of money from Merck, who created the vaccine. After taking that money he issued an executive order that all girls in Texas schools be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine.
4. The Texas Legislature is in the processes of over-ruling Perry’s executive order.
I feel pretty torn about the issue, to be honest. I appreciate some people’s outrage, and I appreciate some people’s appreciation.
In general, I am pleased that some one is giving some attention to women’s sexual health issues. It’s been far too long that primarily male doctors have focused on primarily men’s health issues. This vaccine could do some serious work in reducing HPV, which could in turn dramatically reduce the rates of cervical cancer and genital warts. The idea that this vaccine will encourage girls to have sex earlier and more often is preposterous. I have never met a teenage girl who decided not to have sex because she was concerned that she would contract HPV and get cervical cancer in 20 years.
On the other hand, new vaccines are scary, because there isn’t any information available about long-term effects. This one may be particularly scary because it’s about reproduction and cancer, which are both big issues.
But regardless of whether this vaccine is something all young girls should get is irrelevant in the face of Perry’s outrageous use of the executive order. Governor Perry has hardly been known for his interest in keeping adolescents safe sexually, generally much the opposite. His reasons for the executive order are crystal clear, and the fact that my governor can be bought by a pharmaceutical company is very disheartening, to say the least.
If you want to know more about the vaccine, here are some places to start:
CDC Information Page
Wikipedia Information Page
I saw a documentary on PBS about that recently, but it made it seem like the debate was between people who want to protect women from HPV versus people who think that anyone who has sex before marriage damn well deserves to die of cervical cancer.
That’s exactly the problem with national debate in so many areas – false dichotomies. And particularly with issues like this one, where there are really several issues to debate. Here are a few relevant questions that don’t even touch on the specifics of HPV or cervical cancer:
1. Is an Executive Order an appropriate way to mandate health care?
2. Is it acceptable for a governor to accept money from a major pharmaceutical company?
3. How long and under what precautions should a vaccine be tested before it becomes a nationally recommended vaccine?
4. How should vaccines be marketed?
The mandated HPV vaccine is a complicated issue, and shouldn’t be presented as a simple yes-or-no choice.
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