December 6, 2007
“HPV Vaccine Controversy”
The recent news of a vaccine that could prevent a large percent of cancer deaths in the United States alone would generally be considered a reason to celebrate. However, the current attempts of many states, including the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, to pass an ordinance making it mandatory for preteen girls to have the Gardasil vaccine to protect them from some of the forms of cervical cancer caused by HPV has met a great deal of opposition. The objections to this legislation getting passed are primarily voiced by concerned parents who believe that the vaccination is too new to the market and that the long term effects are still too unknown.. This essay will discuss what genital HPV is and how it causes cancer in women, will describe the Gardasil shot and the attempts to make it a mandatory vaccine inoculation for schools in the United States and will detail both sides of the controversy surrounding it. Though the benefits of this vaccine could greatly outweigh the risks, the governor attempting to force a mandate requiring the vaccine to be given to all sixth grade girls could be considered an imposition on parents’ right to choose what is best for their children.
Genital HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the human papillomavirus (“Genital HPV Infection“), a group of viruses that contains more than 100 strains, 30 of which are sexually transmitted. This disease is spread by genital contact, and the carrier generally has no signs or symptoms of the infection. The only way to fully protect oneself from contracting HPV is to have no genital contact with another person. That is why it is no surprise that more than 20 million people currently have this infection and that 50 percent of sexually active persons will contract it at some point in their life. There is no cure for HPV, but it is possible for the infection to go away on its own. Though it is usually an asymptomatic infection, it occasionally causes genital warts and mild discomfort, but the greatest danger of this infection is in the ten identified strains that have been linked to cervical cancer in women. Most of the deaths caused by cervical cancer are in women who did not undergo routine pap smears to check for abnormalities. Since persons infected with HPV rarely show any signs or symptoms of an infection, it is often detected too late if at all. It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that in 2007, approximately 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and, though the death rate is declining every year because of an increase in pap smear testing, cervical cancer will still kill about 3,670 women this year (“What is cervical cancer?”).
Development of a vaccine to protect against HPV began in 1993, and the trials for the Gardasil vaccine itself began in 1997. After only nine years of testing, Merck submitted an application to the FDA for fast-track approval (CQ Researcher 419). It took only four clinical trials before the FDA approved Gardasil (Mendenhall), and the drug was approved by the FDA for only eight months before it was first mandated. Gardasil is used to prevent HPV and the cervical cancers that are caused by certain strains of the virus, such as types 16 and 18 which are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers diagnosed in the United States (McClain). It also protects against two of the strains that are known to cause genital warts. Gardasil was licensed in June 2006, and within a month states such as Michigan were already proposing to mandate the vaccine for girls as young as eleven. In February 2007, Texas governor Rick Perry ordered the vaccine for sixth-grade girls ("Texas Plans for Mandatory HPV Vaccine Fuel Controversy" ), only to have more than two-thirds of the Texas House of Representatives vote to rescind the executive order (Lang). In response to the twenty two states that were...
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