A little-known debate is smoldering at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that may burst soon into a major fire. Two pharmaceutical companies - Merck and GlaxoSmithKline - have designed a cervical cancer vaccine. In clinical trials the Merck drug, Gardasil, is proving to be up to 100% effective in fighting the dominant strain of the virus causing cervical cancer. The pharmaceutical companies and a growing movement of public health advocates want all girls to be inoculated with the vaccine as they presently are for other high-risk viruses.
The Family Research Council is leading a charge of Religious Right groups to halt any such national inoculation program. Their resistance is driven by fear more than common sense. The human papilloma virus (HPV) that generates cervical cancer is most typically passed along through genital contact with others. So as long as an individual does not engage in sexual intercourse, he or she should be shielded from the virus. The Religious Right bloc concludes that offering a vaccine for HPV would undercut their promotion of sexual abstinence for adolescents.
In that spirit, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fortune magazine that he would not allow his 13-year-old daughter to be inoculated. "It sends the wrong message," Perkins said. "Our concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence."
Globally, cervical cancer kills more than 270,000 women each year - roughly 80% of them in developing countries. The Centers for Disease Control reports that as many as 3,700 women in the U.S. died of cervical cancer last year, and tens of thousands more had their lives completely transformed by a radical treatment regimen for the disease. The majority of those women are African-American or Hispanic, and poor.
Last I checked, teens weren't abstaining from sex purely because they had the fear of God in them over HPV. Most teens probably don't even know what that stands for, or that it can lead to cervical cancer in women. Furthermore, as everyone has been saying from the get-go, you don't see people rolling around in rusty nails post-tetanus shots.
I've got to call Tony Perkins out on this: deciding that his daughter shouldn't have this vaccine is not only completely morally corrupt, but downright scary. What sort of a parent decides that he'd rather his daughter died of a preventable disease than have a vaccine? A vaccine, I might add, that in the future one needn't explain to a young child who is being routinely innoculated against all matter of diseases. Women don't get HPV because they are "bad people" -- and even if you DID want believe that women get HPV only because they've been "immoral," that is NO REASON to deny anyone healthcare. A woman could contract HPV from a partner (even the most trusted), a husband, an unfaithful husband, a rapist, etc. There is no reason on God's green earth to prevent the HPV vaccine from becoming a standard innoculation, especially as many of the sufferers of cervical cancer are women from minority groups or the working class, which could mean that they would have less access to this vaccine if it is not made routine.
Deciding that women should be punished with cancer and/or death because they had sex or were raped by someone carrying a disease is not only ass backwards, it's thinly veiled misogyny.