Monday, January 22, 2007

Aren't you tired of all this HPV talk by now?

(This was written while I was traveling recently. I'm only now posting it.)

Matt brings up the issue of the HPV vaccine. (As always, the good discussions happen while I'm out of town.) There seems to be a sentiment among many of the commenters there that the vaccine should not be required to attend school, and I'm not sure I disagree. I am, however, confused about why any parent would not want their daughter to have this vaccine. So I'm trying to think of likely reasons.

  1. Cost. The virus costs approximately $350. As a potentially life-saving measure, it's cheap at the price. I suppose for those genuinely just squeaking by, the cost might be prohibitive. For any middle-class family, the cost shouldn't be a significant issue.
  2. Anti-vaccination hysteria. As Orac has long pointed out, there is a small, but very vocal, contingent of people crowing about how dangerous vaccines are. Usually, it is that the MMR vaccine causes autism. First it was mercury, and when that was shown not to be true, the cause is unnamed "toxins" in the vaccine. So there are probably a number of people averse to one of "Big Pharma's" treatments. Unfortunately, it's irrational behavior like this that has caused a recent surge in dangerous, yet preventable, diseases like measles.
  3. A desire to avoid a perceived risk. I guess this is the reason I can understand the best. The vaccine is new, and that makes people uncomfortable. As I understand it, the vaccine is extremely safe -- to the point where no serious reactions were reported in the clinical trials for Gardasil.
  4. Treating an STD. This is what I think is behind pretty much all the controversy about this vaccine, and it is the reason that distresses me the most. HPV is largely a sexually transmitted disease, and it seems that conservative Christians are opposed to it because it will remove one of the Lord's punishments for slutty women. This was abundantly clear when they were proclaiming how HIV/AIDS was God's punishment for gay men and His cure for homosexuality. As Michelle Goldberg pointed out in her book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, some abstinence-only proponents have made it clear that preventing unwanted pregnancy and STD's are not the goal of their movement, but rather their goal is preventing people from sinning by having premarital sex. I really do think that if this vaccine treated eyeball cancer rather than a cancer of the naughty parts, it wouldn't be even slightly controversial.

So let me point out that HPV:

  • causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women, worldwide (cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of death for women in the United States)
  • causes anal cancer (while that may make you snigger, it is important for gay men to know; a man who has sex with men is five times more likely to get anal cancer than a woman is to get cervical cancer)
  • causes penile cancer (fortunately rare)
  • causes genital warts
  • can be spread by sexual contact (by the time they reach college, one in five women have been forced to have sex)
  • can even be spread by casual contact

In a private email to me (and I hope she will forgive me for sharing this here), Fig wrote:

I think Merck made a HUGE marketing error. What they should have said was:

Hey, guys - did you know that this year alone 1500 men will get penis cancer? It looks like this [horrible yucky picture]. And the only cure? Surgery. Penis and testicle off and scraped down to the bone. You will pee sitting down for the rest of your life. You'll never have sex again. People in locker rooms will sneak looks at your deformed body and missing maleness and be horrified.

But there is hope! If this vaccine is administered to all boys and girls, penile cancer rates will be slashed by 90%.

If I ever get off my lazy ass and see a doctor, I may have to get this vaccine myself.

UPDATE: This post was picked up by Buzzfeed, so welcome everyone coming from there. This was one in a series of posts I did on the HPV vaccine. (I don't normally harp on about things like this.) If you were interested in this, you may also wish to read:

  1. School Boards and Vaccinations -- the post over at It's Matt's World that started it all
  2. Vaccinations, Revisited -- the discussion continues
  3. More vaccine talk -- where I jumped on the bandwagon (Long, but worth the read.)
  4. Do Christians really want women to die? -- last in the series, about a local conservative who refuses to believe there's any reason a woman should get this vaccine unless she's a slut.

1 comment:

Pete Bogs said...

requiring it is the only way some kids will get it... and that's the parents' fault... my blog today is dedicated to the topic...