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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

girl talk

This blog’s got a little bit of everything: girls, sex, drugs, religious extremism, big money. No, I’m not referring to Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, but rather, something a little less sexy and a bit more involved: compulsory cervical cancer vaccination.

This story begins with Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, unveiling Gardasil, a groundbreaking cervical cancer vaccine in late 2006. The introduction of Gardasil marked the culmination of many years and millions of dollars spent by Merck in preparation for the release. In addition to an educational campaign linking HPV and cervical cancer, Merck led an aggressive lobbying effort for mandatory vaccinations of girls and donated funds to ‘sympathetic’ state and local lawmakers.

One of these local lawmakers, Rick Perry, the Republican Governor of Texas (who received $6,000 from Merck during his 2006 re-election campaign) caused a virtual sh*tstorm earlier this year by issuing an executive order requiring that all sixth grade girls in Texas receive the Gardasil vaccine. This action was later overturned by the state legislature but there are currently 20 other states drafting bills requiring the compulsory cervical vaccination for girls 9-14.

While, in this case, the sh*t mostly flew from the direction of a delusional group of wack-jobs who somehow confused a cervical cancer vaccine with a state-mandated invitation for the young girls of Texas to screw their brains out (how do they get so confused), there were other concerns voiced as well.

Some of these are concerns that I share; that big pharmaceuticals, anticipating a windfall of cash, have manipulated the process and exaggerated the necessity of compulsory vaccination. The phenomenal amount of money states are considering spending on this vaccine could be much better spent developing a comprehensive and realistic sexual education programs. Not to mention that Merck has not had enough time to study the long term effects of this vaccine and is using girls as guinea pigs.

I don’t want to come off looking like some kind of reactionary cancer-promoting freak, but when we look at a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showing the rate of HPV 16 and 18, the two types of HPV responsible for most cervical cancer effect respectively only 1.5% and 0.08% of women with HPV, I wonder if a mandatory vaccine is really that urgent or cost effective.

And not to doubt the intentions of Merck’s marketing, um, I mean, ‘educational’ campaign to promote the prevention of cervical cancer, but wouldn’t the approx. $360/vaccination be better spent on educating girls about STI’s, sexual health, or funding of regular OB/GYN visits for all girls from 12 on up? I’m no expert but I’ll bet these sort of preventative efforts prove to be more effective in preventing the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases in the long run.

Yes, I’m a cynic by nature. But in these days of big pharma payola and pseudo moral outrage, I believe that thinking critically about this issue is crucial, especially when it comes to our kids. Before state governments start pouring millions of dollars into the Merck coffers, let’s take a good look at a holistic approach to sexual education and STI prevention.


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