Here’s an article from the Windsor Star about Gardasil, the vacine for young women that is meant to help prevent a number of strains of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that leads to Cervical Cancer. Great thing right? One would think that a vaccine for cancer would be heralded as a breakthrough with people lining up from all over to ensure that they were innoculated… Well, not so much – at least not in the US where many religious conservatives see this vaccine as a message to their daughters (this vaccine is best given to girls aged 12-26 before they become sexually active) that it’s a free for all for sex.

I’m continually shocked and disturbed by how stupid people think young women are. I’m sure most young women know that there are other concerns when having sex and will continue to use condoms if they do so. I’m similarly shocked and disturbed by how religious conservatives think abstinence works and like to hold onto their scary statistics and diseases in order to scare teens from having sex – even at the expense of their health. But here’s my issue with this article: it talks mostly about a problem that isn’t really an issue here in Canada. There just isn’t the same resistance to the drug as there is in the US… so how does this article possibly encourage and create resistance to it that doesn’t already exist? The article focuses primarily on debunking ideas that Gardasil is a bad thing…

Although some are concerned that giving girls the vaccine may lead them to believe they can safely have sex, medical officials say the benefits far outweigh any such concern.

“There’s a kind of hysteria about the drug especially within the religious right in the United States, but for me it’s a public health issue,” said Samantha Brennan, head of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.

Cervical cancer is a leading cause of death in young woman, and in most cases results from exposure to HPV. Gardasil is most effective when given to girls and young women before they have sexual activity, but studies are being done on its efficacy in older women who have had sex and have even been exposed to the virus which in most cases clears up on its own instead of leading to cancer. The vaccine also guards against genital warts caused by HPV. It is not recommended for boys or men, pregnant women or girls under nine years.

Officials agree that even if a person has an HPV infection, getting the vaccine can still be protective because Gardasil works against the two strains that cause cancer, and two that cause genital warts.

“When you put a helmet on your kid to ride a bicycle, you’re protecting them,” Murphy said. “We know that abstinence does not work.”

Local health officials are firmly on side when it comes to innoculating girls. “If I had a teenage daughter, I would definitely provide the vaccine,” said Dr. Allen Heimann of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit which provides Gardasil in its clinic.

“No woman in Canada should die of cervical cancer,” he said, adding that all women still should be screened for the disease on a regular basis. The vaccine is not yet covered by provincial health plans, and the three necessary injections – given over six months – can cost up to $400. The federal government has set aside $300 million for provinces to fund the vaccine, but the national protocols have not been established, a spokesman for the Ontario health ministry said.

“To my mind there isn’t a moral argument,” said Guy Grenier, a London, Ont. psychologist and author. “We should be educating our kids about sex.”

Stephanie Driedger, a nurse practitioner at Windsor’s Teen Health Centre, said the vaccine is offered to every eligible client who comes in for a physical.

“We have noticed an increase in interest,” Driedger said. Most of the recipients are between 16 and 25 and many of them are sexually active, she said, but she said most of them do not view the vaccine as a carte blanche to have sex.

“I don’t think that’s the impression they’re under. It’s the word, cancer. The benefits outweigh the risks,” Driedger said.

“It’s just a new thing for me,” said Cathy, a Windsor-area resident with two daughters aged 19 and 13. “I have thought about it. I’m not 100 per cent informed.

“It’s been sitting on the back burner. I’d like to open it and discuss it with them,” she said, adding that although Garadasil may be effective, she still leans towards encouraging her daughters to be careful about having sex.

So… the article isn’t THAT bad… although it doesn’t mention the other vaccine that will be coming out for cervical cancer in the next few months. Nor does it talk about another debate that is currently going on – which is whether to also innoculate young boys, in order to save them from penis cancer (admittedly rare) and help create herd immunity, by preventing them from spreading HPV to their partners. If I had a son I would immunize him against HPV!!! Also, what man would want to be a carrier for a disease that might cause cancer in the people that he loves? Thoughts?