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Genital human papillomavirus (HPV)

Cervical cancer & the Gardasil® vaccine; Initial
reactions to the vaccine by religious conservatives.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Cervical cancer:

In the U.S.: According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

bullet 12,410 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with cervical cancer during 2008. 1
bullet During 2008, 4,008 women died from cervical cancer in the U.S. 1

In Canada:

bulletAbout 400,000 women have abnormal (precancerous) cervical cells. 2
bulletAbout 1,400 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. 3
bulletAbout 390 women die from the disease each year. 4
bullet99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. 2

Worldwide:

bullet the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that: "Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women and kills 250,000 women a year. About 500,000 cases of the disease are reported every year, 80 percent of them in developing countries. The vaccines could have a 'major impact' on that toll." 5

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The Gardasil® vaccine

Two new vaccines have been developed "... to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by certain types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV)." It was:

"... developed over a ten-year period by Merck. Gardasil is shown in clinical trials to have 100% efficacy in fighting the dominant strains of the virus that causes [sic] cervical cancer. Creators of the Merck vaccine, ... and a rival vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline, say it will save lives as well as billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year." 6

The vaccine protects against four HPV types, which together cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. 7 It is administered via three injections over a six-month period.

According to the Washington Post:

"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 given primarily to girls but could also be used on boys to limit the spread of the virus. 8

Polls indicate that the most common age at which teens become sexually active is 16, while they are in high school.

MedPage Today reported that:

"The HPV vaccine Gardasil was approved in June 2006 for females ages nine to 26 for the prevention of cervical cancer, pre-cancerous genital lesions, and genital warts due to HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18." 8

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have jointly issued a vaccination schedule for children and adolescents. It recommends HPV vaccine for girls aged from 8 to 18. 8 The decision to require universal vaccination is made by individual states.

The National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) notes that:

  • "By 50 years of age, 70-80% of women will have acquired genital HPV infection—often with more than one type of HPV.
  • Adolescents and young adults are very likely to acquire genital HPV infection within a few months after beginning sexual activity. ..."
  • "School mandates have increased immunization levels and have reduced disease outbreaks, including among those who cannot receive the vaccine because of medical reasons.

  • Most states permit religious and/or philosophical exemptions, in addition to exemptions for medical contraindications.

  • Children who have been exempted from compulsory immunization for religious or philosophical reasons are many times more likely to both acquire and spread vaccine-preventable diseases." 9

During 2006-Fall, Michigan became the first state to require all girls entering the sixth grade during the 2007-2008 school year to have received the vaccine. The Washington Times reported in early 2007-JAN that several states, including Texas, are considering mandatory HPV vaccines for adolescent girls. 10,11

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Initial reactions to the vaccine by religious conservatives:

According to the New Republic magazine, when Gardasil's trials proved successful in 2005:

"... the Christian right seemed to view the vaccine as a license for promiscuity. The Chicago Tribune reported that 'conservative groups promoting abstinence say they will fight recommendations that children get shots,' while the Los Angeles Times warned of a 'clash between health advocates ... and social conservatives'." 12

However, opposition never materialized in the expected form. What did happen was a coordinated effort by religious conservatives to praise the vaccine, while supporting the right of individual parents to decide whether to protect their children or not. Three of the most prominent fundamentalist Christian groups responded:

bulletThe Family Research Council said it "support[s] the widespread distribution and use of vaccines against HPV."

bulletFocus on the Family announced that it "supports and encourages the development of safe, effective, and ethical vaccines against HPV and other viruses ... [and] supports the widespread (universal) availability of HPV vaccines."

bulletA spokesperson for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations told the New Republic magazine that her group "fully supports wide availability of the vaccine for those who want it." 12

Meanwhile, these same groups oppose any form of mandatory vaccination:

bulletThe Family Research Council said: "Because parents have an inherent right to be the primary educator and decision maker regarding their children's health, we would oppose any measures to legally require the vaccination or to coerce parents into authorizing it."

bulletFocus on the Family "opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry into public school. The decision of whether to vaccinate a minor against this or other sexually transmitted infections should remain with the child's parent or guardian."

bulletThe Christian Medical & Dental Associations believe the vaccination should "absolutely remain a choice, not a requirement." 12

We were unable to find any conservative Christian information source that recommended that children's opinion be taken into account.

Alan Kaye, chairman of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition is hopeful that the vaccine will be universally used. He said: "I don't think anyone wants to stop a cancer vaccine." But some things are more important than saving lives. To some parents, promoting premarital chastity is one of these. Their reasoning is that if their daughters feel protected from one sexually transmitted disease (STI) out of the dozens of STIs that are in wide circulation, then there might be a slight increase in their level of sexual experimentation. It is a judgment call for the parents whether the unknown risk of increasing sexual activity among millions of teens is more important than saving about seven American women's lives a day.

The battle between conservative Christian groups and public health groups will still happen. However, it will probably be centered at the individual state level over attempts to require universal vaccination for all female students.

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This topic continues on the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Pap Test," U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2006-MAR, at: http://womenshealth.gov/faq/pap.htm
  2. Colleen Tully, "Preventing cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine. Perspectives from medical professionals," Canadian Living, 2006, at: http://www.canadianliving.com/
  3. "HPVinfo," The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, at: http://www.hpvinfo.ca/
  4. "Cervical cancer vaccine approved in Canada," CBC News, 2006-JUL-18, at: http://www.cbc.ca/
  5. Andrea Gerlin, "Poor Women Should Get HPV Vaccine, Health Leaders Say (Update2)," Blomberg News, 2006-DEC-12, at: http://www.bloomberg.com
  6. "The coming storm over a cancer vaccine," The Fortune Preview Guide, 2005-OCT-31, at: http://www.fortuneeducation.com/
  7. "HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006-AUG, at: http://www.cdc.gov/
  8. Rob Stein, "Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Injected With a Social Issue: Some Fear a Shot For Teens Could Encourage Sex," Washington Post, 2005-OCT-31, Page A03. Online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  9. "Mandatory HPV Immunization for Middle School Girls," National Network for Immunization Information, 2008-JUN-03, at: http://www.immunizationinfo.org/
  10. "Call for Vaccine Takes Parting "Shot" at Parents," Family Research Council Washington Update, 2007-JAN-05.
  11. Joyce Howard Price, "Sex-disease shot urged for girls," Washington Times, 2007-JAN-05, at: http://washingtontimes.com/
  12. Steven Groopman, "Conservative Christians and HPV: Blind faith," The New Republic Online, 2006-MAR-10, at: http://www.tnr.com/

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 Home page > Morality > HPV > here

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Copyright © 2007 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2007-JAN-08
Last updated 2012-OCT-16

Author: Bruce A Robinson
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