One more victory for climate, “One less” for women’s health?

You know it’s a good week when it starts off with the Supreme Court on your side. How cool was it that the Court ruled that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollutants under the Clean Air Act? That’s huge – or it at least has the potential to be, if the EPA actually reconsiders its refusal to regulate, now that it can’t make the excuse that it doesn’t have the power to do so.

But then, I looked at the metro section of the Post this morning and saw the heading “Council Tentatively Backs Mandatory HPV Vaccine.” I could tell right away that this is the same vaccine that keeps popping up in commercials with young women saying “I could be one less,” referring to statistics of cervical cancer, which can be caused in part by the HPV virus. I felt queasy the first time I saw the ad and queasy again now with this headline, and I’ll try to form the correct words as to why:

1) First and foremost, even if the vaccine were perfectly safe (which it isn’t) and completely affordable (which it isn’t), no one medical company should have that kind of power over public health, such that a spankin new vaccine whose long-term effects have yet to be tested is made mandatory for all young women as young as 9 in the District or any other state (so far Texas is the only one to mandate it, with many others considering similar legislation). Merck & Co., the makers of this vaccine (Gardasil), are the same folks that brought us Vioxx, which was similarly swiftly approved by the FDA only later to be recalled because of increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term use.

2) The target audience of this vaccine is the population with the least voice and the least ability to finance the vaccine – young women, and especially disadvantaged young women. The fact that the vaccine is marketed for and proposed to be mandated for women specifically automatically screams “sexist” to me, since the virus is carried by both women and men. This is yet another example of women being forced to carry all of the blame and the burden for their sexual health with no regard for the man’s role in the transmission of the disease. Moreover, the vast majority of cervical cancer cases are among the populations that can least afford it, and Merck has made only vague statements about taking measures to ensure its availability to low-income populations and in developing nations. The vaccine costs $360, one of the largest price tags that exists for a vaccine – I hate to imagine how much cash Merck would be raking in if the vaccine were made mandatory throughout the District alone, let alone the US or internationally.

3) As with any decision regarding personal health care, sexual activity, and reproductive rights, the most important factors are education and choice. Right now, the only mandatory vaccines in schools are for publicly transmissible diseases – and understandably so, in order to preserve a healthful learning environment. This would be the first mandatory vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection. For the same reason that no woman should be forcibly injected with birth control, no woman should be forcibly injected with any vaccine without full and complete knowledge of the risks, the side effects, and the options available to her in preventing the infection, and a choice in whether the vaccine is right for her. And no, I don’t think an “opt-out provision” is enough.

That was longer than I intended it to be but I do think this vaccine is an extremely important issue, and I find it disturbing how readily it is being endorsed by legislators and NGOs alike. I also find that a lot of reference is made to abstinence-only groups and other conservatives opposing the legislation, which is fine, and they have their own reasons, but they certainly are not the only ones, and by no stretch is this a liberal vs. conservative or left vs. right issue.

I will be composing a letter tomorrow to Mary Cheh, my city council representative and co-sponsor of the legislation, and also to the other At-Large City Council members (including David Catania, the other co-sponsor). I welcome others’ input and feedback.

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5 Responses to “One more victory for climate, “One less” for women’s health?”

  1. Isaac Says:

    When you write to Mary Cheh, count me as one religious conservative who says withholding a vaccine does not count as religious education. I plead the 5th on the medical side, but I am incensed by evangelicals (I am an evangelical) who assert that by providing a vaccine against an STD they would be encouraging premarital sex.

    They seem to ignore that one can marry into an STD as well, or be raped by a carrier. And, hey, if my daughter decides to do something (IMO) stupid, do I really want a preventable disease to be the result? Hardly Christian. Jesus wouldn’t have withheld a vaccine like that. Check out John 8: he would more likely have said, “boom, your STD is cured. Keep your pants on in the future.”

    But on the other hand, forcible vaccination is creepy too. Whispers of 1984.

  2. Steve Gilberg Says:

    Well done, O top of the WP blog listings. I’ve sometimes hoped that the Express would print an excerpt from my blog, but it’s not likely. (They rarely quote LJs.)

  3. sarahsmile Says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Isaac, and I appreciate your thoughts on the “encouraging premarital sex” issue. It’s important for folks like yourself to be able to speak from the religious side of things (being a bit of a halfbreed myself I’ve never been able to do so). And for the record, I certainly agree that withholding the vaccine is not the answer. I think it’s actually important for it to exist as one of the prevention options and we should always be looking for ways to prevent these diseases – but it should not be the only option, for the reasons outlined above.

    (And thanks for the kudos, Steve!)

  4. Abe Nowels Says:

    I’m with you on the creepyness of it all….kind of shocked me that it went mandatory in Texas (of all places!) so quickly. Interesting that you brought up the ad, I had some weird mixed feelings when I watched it. Kind of a combination of revulsion, but also when they started saying “I could be one less” that swelling in the back of my throat whenever I see a movie about things like civil rights or Galileo or the American revolution. I’m really interested in where this is going to go….like you said, I think there are lots of people from divergent backrounds who are against a mandatory vaccine like this one. In regard to #2, however, the vaccine isn’t actually approved for use by men, and as far as I understand was developed specifically to reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women as a result of HPV. I believe that vaccine for men is in the works, but there’s like 100 types of HPV, and I think like 4 or 5 of those can cause cervical cancer, so they targeted those specific ones.
    Not sure yet how I feel about the vaccine in general (like would I encourage my teenage daughter to get it?), but mandatory vaccination makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

  5. legaue woman voters Says:

    legaue woman voters

    great post, learned a lot

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