A Virus that Causes Cancer?
Plans to vaccinate young girls against HPV are more about money than medicine
March 10, 2007

“Have you heard?  Cervical cancer is caused by a virus?  I didn’t know that”

You’ve probably seen the commercials.  What you still don’t know at the end of the commercial is that the virus, the human papillomavirus (HPV) can only be transmitted through sexual activity.  Watching the commercial, you’d get the impression that any woman could “catch” cervical cancer the same way she catches a cold.

The commercials are promoting a vaccination called Gardasil.  Introduced last year by drug manufacturer Merck, Gardasil apparently protects uninfected women against contracting certain strains of the HPV virus, which can in some cases lead to cervical cancer.  Now, state after state is introducing legislation requiring the vaccination of girls as young as nine.  Yes, you read that right – nine years old.

Let’s start with some of the facts about this vaccine.  First of all, it’s not going to “wipe out” cervical cancer, no matter how many women are vaccinated.  It offers protection against only four of the 100 strains of HPV – not to mention offering zero protection against non-HPV relaed cervical cancer.  So even if all women everywhere were immunized and the vaccine were 100% effective, women would still die of cervical cancer.

The vaccine costs $360 per woman immunized -- $120 per injections, three injections necessary over a six month period.  All of the legislation I’ve seen mandating the vaccination calls for government to bear the cost of the programs, at a cost of millions upon millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

None of which I would have a problem with if I could see some enormous medical benefit.  But I don’t.

I don’t even know where to begin with my objections to this program.  First of all, there are the side effects.  According to Vicky Debold of the National Vaccination Information Center, "Young girls are experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, temporary loss of vision and some girls have lost consciousness during what appear to be seizures."

And what about the long-term consequences?  There have been absolutely no long-term studies on the safety of this vaccination.  No one has any idea what the impact could be – especially when the vaccine is given to young, still-developing girls.  

Remember Thalodimide and DES?  Both medications were given to women in the 1950’s and beyond.  Both led to tragic birth defects in those women’s children.  Some of those side effects (deformation or complete absence of limbs, etc.) were apparent relatively soon.  Others  (including a rare form of vaginal and cervical cancer in the daughters of women who took DES) didn’t show up for an entire generation.

Why on earth would we take these kinds of risks with our daughters?

Then there’s the “mandatory” nature of many of these state-run programs.  Parents are given the option to “opt-out”, but from what I’ve seen so far, “opting out” requires a whole lot of time and red tape for parents who don’t want their young daughters exposed to such a new and experimental vaccination.

Why would the government co-opt such an important parental decision? 

Some parents may want their children to be vaccinated.  Others may not.  I could see, if this were a highly communicable disease like polio or mumps, where schools would have an interest in making sure children were vaccinated before entering the classroom.  But two fourth-graders sitting next to each other in math class are not going to give each other HPV.

Given all the flurry of legislation and the fevered pitch of the discussion, one would get the impression that this vaccination was the answer to some kind of national epidemic.  But it’s not.  Cervical cancer accounts for just 1% of all cancer deaths in women. The rate of death from cervical cancer has, in fact, been dropping steadily, thanks to the practice of routine pap smears.  From 1955 to 1992, deaths from cervical cancer dropped 74%.  In Texas, where governor Rick Perry issued an executive order calling for immunization of girls as young as 11, a total of 329 women died of cervical cancer in 2004.  Virginia and Maryland each had 210 cases.  

This isn’t about addressing a national health crisis.  It’s about money.  Merck, the sole manufacturer of Gardasil, has been lobbying heavily for states to adopt these mandatory vaccination programs.  Can you imagine?  Every state requiring three vaccinations for every school aged girl?  And nobody knows how long the inoculation period of the vaccination lasts.  Estimates right now are that women will have to be re-vaccinated every 5 years or so to maintain the protective benefit of Gardasil.  Merck stands to reap millions in profits from these programs.

HPV-related cervical cancer is very, very preventable.  It is prevented when young women abstain from sexual activity.  It is further prevented when women of all ages receive regular pap smears, which can detect HPV-related warts and early pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.

We don’t need to be injecting an expensive, potentially dangerous vaccine into our school-aged girls.


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