At last there is a vaccine against cervical cancer. The FDA has approved Merck’s vaccine, Gardisil, for the prevention of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. This vaccine could prevent countless deaths and much suffering.
Cervical cancer is caused by the papillonavirus or HPV. In 90% of cases the infection is harmless and goes away without treatment. This virus, also the cause of genital warts, is found in 50% of American women. There are seven common types-16, 18, 31, 33, 42, 52, 58. Types 16 and 18 are the most common cause of cervical cancer and studies have shown 100% effectiveness in preventing these viruses. Gardisil also prevents the two types of HPV that cause genital warts. The vaccine is given in three shots over a period of six months. If used worldwide, the deathrate from cervical cancer is estimated to drop by two thirds. Women must continue getting the Pap smear as most will already have been exposed to the HPV virus.
If health advocates in the U.S. have their way, cervical cancer could be virtually eliminated for the generation of today’s children. The vaccine must be given before sexual activity has commenced and advocates want to give the vaccine as part of the routine vaccinations that children get. They feel that girls aged from about nine to eleven should receive the vaccine and that it should be mandatory. Juan Carlos of USC and the head of the National Cervical Cancer Association would like to make the HPV vaccination a requirement for entering high school.
The way the vaccine will be administered will be decided by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, a panel of experts assembled by the CDC in Atlanta. It is here that the controversy over the HPV vaccine will be centered.
Many religions and conservative groups argue that giving the vaccine sends a subtle message that sex before marriage is OK. Mandatory vaccination is opposed by groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. They argue that sexual issues are a private, family matter and that parents, not the state, should decided whether their daughters should be vaccinated.
Cost is another concern. The series of shots cost from $300 to $500. However, the cost of cervical cancer is much greater. Of concern, are women in third world countries for whom the vaccine is out of reach unless there is help from the wealthy countries.
However some of the controversies turn out, no one can argue against the fact that the HPV vaccine is a major breakthrough in women’s health.