Friday, March 02, 2007

Prevention is predation?

Christian conservatives rage at Merck

Gardasil is the name for Merck's new and highly effective vaccine against some strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Inoculation with Gardasil provides 95% protection against cervical infection, which is highly significant because the Merck vaccine is targeted against the HPV strains most likely to lead to cervical cancer. In brief, Gardasil offers highly effective protection against a very dangerous form of cancer.

What's not to like?

It turns out that many Christian conservatives (such as Focus on the Family), are dismayed by the development of Gardasil. You see, it will preserve the health of people who don't deserve it. If you want to avoid HPV (and the subsequent cervical cancer), you simply need to abstain from sex until you and your virginity embark on a monogamous marriage. If you inoculate your daughters against HPV, you are encouraging them to engage in promiscuous sexual behavior. It's that simple!

Leave it to Christian conservatives to screw up a perfectly straightforward health issue.

For a while, it looked like the state of Texas would take an uncharacteristically bold stand in favor of common-sense health policy by mandating inoculation of all school girls as they enter sixth grade. However, the program was enacted as an executive order by Texas governor Rick Perry and was widely regarded as politically tainted. Merck is a contributor to Governor Perry's campaign treasury and Merck is the sole provider of Gardasil. Despite the clear merits of Gardasil, the Texas inoculation program became a questionable result of Merck's vigorous push to have mandatory inoculation programs enacted in each state.

In the wake of the bad publicity, Merck backed off and suspended its lobbying efforts, which is probably just as well. Gardasil's merits are apparent even without political spin and arm-twisting. (But do you remember when conservatives used to be in favor of capitalism and would have celebrated Merck's efforts as simply a savvy marketing ploy?)

The reaction to a successful HPV vaccine, however, continues to amaze rational people. For example, political cartoonist Lisa Benson displays a charmingly light touch in this witty comment:

Any reasonable person can easily see the similarity between a flasher stalking schoolgirls and a drug company seeking to capitalize on a health breakthrough. You can see that, right? (The blurb accompanying the cartoon extols Benson as someone with “a very large dollop of common sense.” How frightfully inapt.)

I much prefer the pointed perspective of Ann Telnaes, who hits much closer to the mark with her own editorial cartoon:

Thanks for that bit of sanity, Ann.


The Science Pundit said...

What bothers me about all this is why they're only talking about vaccinating girls. Why not boys? I realize that women are the one's most adversely affected, but that's actually a non sequitor.

In any pandemic/epidemic, the most dangerous individuals are not the ones who get severely ill. The greatest menace comes from those who don't get that sick but remain highly contagious.

More lives could be saved by concentrating vaccination efforts on the potential "Typhoid Marys." So the debate here shouldn't be (IMO) whether or not we should vaccinate all girls, but whether or not we should vaccinate all children.

My two cents!!!

King Aardvark said...

TSP: I'm sure Merck would be happy to hear that!

Definitely worth considering though.