Saturday, June 17, 2006

Excellent News for Women's Health

I had ranted a few posts back (Will the Public Reap the Benefits of Scientific Research or Just Die Instead? 3/27/06) about the brouhaha surrounding a vaccine for certain types of the HPV virus, which can lead to cervical cancer. As you'll recall, the brouhaha involved the usual suspects: left leaning doctors and earnest proponents of public health versus right wing nut jobs who were sure that this vaccine was tantamount to encouraging young girls to shag everyone in sight. Such a tired old rant! Like distributing condoms will compel people to have sex they were not otherwise planning to have and the availability of clean needles will cause everyone to run out and plunge drugs into their veins.

So what if not a single study supports this thinking? As Bush has told us again and again, he doesn't care much for book learning, relying instead upon God and his own cocaine-addled brain. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you are equally suspicious of "research" and "statistics:" HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 6.2 million Americans become infected with genital HPV each year and that over half of all sexually active men and women become infected at some time in their lives. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women; and is estimated to cause over 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths each year.

A fairly compelling reason to create this newly FDA approved vaccine, no? But what good does a vaccine do if no one gets it? If no one knows about it? As dead set against this vaccine as right wing folks were, they were even more aghast at supporters trying to include this vaccine into those required for school enrollment. Much squawking about government intrusion into personal decisions followed.

Why would making this vaccine required be a good idea from a public health point of view? Let me tell you a story about The Mama and her almost one year old, Uh Guh. The Mama was bringing Uh Guh to her first pediatrician visit right around election time. There was a hotly contested item on the California ballot, Proposition 73, that would require parental notification prior to abortion. The Mama, who worked almost exclusively with teen girls who occasionally found themselves pregnant and in no position to parent, was dead set against this bill, as she well knew the dire consequences of teens put in desperate situations. So The Mama was horrified to see her new pediatrician on the nightly news, speaking out in favor of this bill. Suffice it to say, that was the end of that relationship.

But let's say that this doctor continued to see Uh Guh. And let's say The Mama had never heard of HPV--as many people never have--but of course always did what was required of her without fail, because she loves her child and will do anything to keep her safe. And let's say the doctor, being against this vaccine, simply failed to mention it when Uh Guh reached the age of 9-15, or mentioned it along with all the reasons she thought it was a bad idea and totally unnecessary.

And that is why vaccines or anything for that matter becomes mandatory for public health. Overwhelming research results trump the doctor's or the parent's opinion and it becomes the law. Think child safety seats. You may personally be of the opinion that it is fine to drive with your child on your lap but research (again with that!) indicates that in crashes at even the lowest speeds, your baby will bounce around the car as in a pinball machine causing severe injuries and/or death. And that's that.

The shortsighted part of the argument is that HPV does not magically disappear at the altar. Even if you have remained as pure as the driven snow until marriage, you can get HPV from your yellow-gray snow spouse. And then it is too late, as the vaccine must be given pre-infection. HPV can cause problems in pregnancy and can be passed to the baby. All in all, something to be avoided, if at all possible.

I would like to imagine, that these folks that oppose this vaccine will also make a commitment to increased funding for women's cancers. I'm sure that will happen, just as they are constantly increasing funding for children's social services and education. Ahem.

Anyway, the vaccine is called Gardasil and is approved for females age 9-26. Read up on it, ask your friends and your doctor about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mama here. I just got a foward about the website, supported by MERCK. If you order a free bracelet they will donate $1 to cancer research for underserved women.