Genital human papillomavirus (HPV)
Cervical cancer & the Gardasil® vaccine; Initial
|12,410 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with cervical cancer during 2008. 1|
|During 2008, 4,008 women died from cervical cancer in the U.S. 1|
|About 400,000 women have abnormal (precancerous) cervical cells. 2|
|About 1,400 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. 3|
|About 390 women die from the disease each year. 4|
|99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. 2|
|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|
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:
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
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:
|The Family Research Council said it "support[s]
the widespread distribution and use of vaccines against HPV."|
|Focus 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."|
|A 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:
|The 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."
|Focus 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."|
|The 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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