Warning: Rant Ahead
Okay, so yesterday I noticed a survey on Universal Hub that asked whether or not Massachusetts should require the cervical cancer vaccine. I thought that this was odd; I mean, really, who would opine against something that prevents cancer? I logged my vote and was stunned to see the “no’s” winning. WHAT? (spoken in incredulous, Borat- voice). Seriously, who likes cancer?
As a microbiologist who specializes in infectious disease (yes, I know I’m only a grad student, but I know my stuff when it comes to nasty pathogens.) , I find it highly upsetting that people would be opposed to this vaccination program. HPV (human papilloma virus) is a serious problem in the United States. Here's an article with some good information about the disease, the vaccine, and infections rates, which vary from 1 in 2 to 1 in 5 in the U.S. HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer, which kills 300,000 women a year worldwide. The vaccine prevents HPV infection and therefore blocks the major cause of cervical cancer. Really, that’s all you need to know: Cancer bad. Vaccine block cancer. Vaccine good.
So, why are people against it?
There seem to be two major arguments. The first is of the "it's just a money maker for Merck" vein of skepticism. Or people who are opposed to vaccination in general (but that's a rant for another day). Yes, Merck will make money on the HPV vaccine, but Merck spent millions of dollars in funding research and development in order to create the vaccine. And it works. And it's a lot cheaper (and far more pleasant) to get a vaccine than to undergo treatment for cancer.
The second, and the one that really makes me angry, is the "it will encourage teenage girls to have sex" line of opposition. It's the same ridiculous argument that was used against sex ed programs the late 80s when AIDS came on the scene. Talking about sex, or STDs, does not encourage people to have pre-martial sex. Let's get realistic. Currently, 24.5% of girls ages 14 to 19 in the United States are infected with HPV. Like it or not, many teenagers have sex. Vaccinating them against HPV prevents them from developing a common and deadly form of cancer. Really, what's not to like about this plan? Vaccinate the population, reduce cancer rates. Does the opposition prefer that those sinful girls will get cancer? Wouldn't that teach them a lesson! Would these same people be opposed to an HIV vaccine, if it existed? "Well, they shouldn't be having sex anyways." Grrrr....