The Truth about the HPV Vaccine

Debbie says:

(Because of travel schedules and other complications, I’ll be blogging without Laurie for another couple of weeks. But don’t worry; she’s fine and she’ll be back.)

I’ve gotten interested in the controversy over Gardasil, Merck Corporation’s human papilloma virus vaccine which is about to be mandatory for girls in Texas (unless their parents raise religious or philosophical objections). Up until this week, all I had heard was raves for the vaccine from the progressive/liberal/scientific community, sometimes paired with objections on a religious basis: the belief that vaccinating girls encourages sexual activity. The definitive post on this aspect of the controversy is from the always-cogent Rivka.

Religious exemptions to mandatory vaccines are already available in every state but West Virginia and Mississippi. (Anyone think that Focus on the Family would have trouble convincing the Mississippi or West Virginia state legislature to add in a religious exemption for the HPV vaccine? Me neither.) They will have the right to opt their daughters out of this health-, fertility-, and potentially life-saving vaccine, mandatory or not. What they’re really angling for is a way to deny it to other people’s daughters.

If it’s easy to opt out, why the battle over mandatory? Because mandatory = affordable. States cannot make a vaccine mandatory for school entry unless they are willing to provide it to those who cannot pay. And thus, through the CDC’s Vaccines For Children program, every state supplies children with required vaccines free of cost. But optional vaccines are a different story. … Put simply, if the HPV vaccine is not made mandatory, it probably won’t reach the low-income women and girls who need it most. Of course, that means that the Religious Right’s tax dollars won’t go towards providing women with an immunological license for promiscuity… and don’t think that they aren’t thinking of it that way.

I was a little startled by the Texas ruling; I would have assumed that the first states to take this leap would have been Massachusetts, New York, California, Washington … states where the religious right has somewhat less clout.

So I was interested to run across this post, from a nonreligious skeptic at Evil Slutopia about the vaccine, taking a very different view. She presents a well-reasoned and thoughtful set of arguments for distrusting the vaccine, all of which Rivka responds to very clearly in the comment thread here.

Her “things you might not know” contain some very important information. Merck is mounting a very substantial campaign to get the vaccine made mandatory in all 50 states. To the extent they succeed, they will be protected from liability if the vaccine causes problems down the line. Men are under-tested. Texas governor Rick Perry took money from Merck and then circumvented the legislature to make this decision.

And it’s about impossible to disagree with Evil Slutopia’s final point: “Don’t get this vaccine just because your doctor/mom/sister/friend/a perky TV commercial told you to. But don’t not get it just because some chicks with a blog say that they aren’t going to. It’s your health, your decision. Do your own research and accept no guilt trips.”

I wrote this post to make myself review the evidence and come to my own conclusion, and now I have.

1) If I had a young daughter, I would encourage her to get the vaccine. I think the risks of cervical cancer are far worse than the risks of the vaccine.

2) I fucking hate the way we run our drug testing for huge corporate profit. It muddies the waters of health and safety, and makes all of this much harder to unravel than it would be otherwise. I despise the constant pressure pushing people away from good medical choices because it’s so hard to believe the drug lords could be getting this obscenely rich on something that actually does some good.
Thanks to Peg Kerr for gathering up the various comments and reactions so well.

HPV, human papilloma virus, Gardisil, vaccine, Texas, pharmaceutical industry, Merck, drug companies, Body Impolitic