Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Here's an op-ed I wrote for the Orange County Register in 2007. Since more and more parents are being asked to vaccinate their children with this vaccine, I thought it appropriate to revisit the topic.
In today's America - a country seemingly driven more by its desire for health care than for health itself - an idea has taken hold that every child should receive whatever vaccine that medical science can conjure up. Seemingly unimportant is whether our children are at risk for developing any of the diseases against which the corresponding vaccines promise protection.
The latest of these "necessary" vaccines is Gardasil. Produced by Merck, it is said to prevent HPV, a viral infection spread by sexual contact and the cause each year of approximately 10,500 cervical cancer cases, and 3,500 deaths.
We're told Gardasil, to be effective, must be administered before sexual activity commences - hence the desire to start vaccinating girls at ages 11 and 12.
The millions spent by Merck on marketers and lobbyists convinced the states of Texas and Virginia to require this vaccine as a prerequisite for attending public schools. California, like at least 18 other states, has seen a similar proposal. A bill linking HPV vaccination and public school admittance has been revived by its author and is scheduled for a hearing today in the Assembly Health Committee.
But unlike other mandatory vaccination measures, this one has encountered resistance. Many Americans, particularly Christian social conservatives, are concerned that requiring the vaccination of 11- and 12-year-old girls against a sexually transmitted disease sends the wrong message to our youth.
This rationale I neither endorse nor oppose. My objections are of a different nature. I do, however, believe the religious community's resistance has been helpful to Merck and its government allies. Here's why.
Since, as we'll see, it's difficult to build a logical case for this vaccine because of the preventable nature of cervical cancer, an appeal based on emotion is needed. And how better to stir up more emotion than what could be marketed as a struggle against narrow-minded Christian conservatives whose irrational fears about sex were putting women's lives at risk? Throw in the word cancer, and you have a perfect emotion-based marketing strategy and one that seems to make facts and logic unnecessary.
But facts and logic are always necessary, and, in this case, they speak loudly against the vaccine. Here's what they have to say:
Cervical cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable. Ninety percent of those contracting the disease have not had a pap smear in the previous five years. Smoking increases risk by 200 percent.
Finally, the salvation promised by vaccination does not come without a price. Short-term risks associated with Gardasil include nausea, dizziness, pain, diarrhea and vomiting. The vaccine's long-term health effects remain largely unknown because it has been approved for use for less than a year.
If we mandate this new HPV vaccine - rewarding Merck with a billion-dollar windfall - we'll undoubtedly be subsequently deluged with other new vaccines, each accompanied by a new and unique set of risks to our children in exchange for, as in the case of the HPV vaccine, little to no benefit. We might see a replay of the thimerisol fiasco of the 1990s, when many children were, because of mandatory vaccinations containing that preservative, exposed to levels of mercury exceeding EPA guidelines by 70 to 125 times.
I believe most parents would, based on the aforementioned evidence, choose not to have their children injected with Gardasil. Regrettably, under a statewide mandate, these parents would not be offered a choice.
"But there's an opt-out provision," say the politicians. "No one has to get this vaccine if they don't want it."
Unfortunately, most parents are, based on the number of times I was told "You know, your kid can't get into school without shots," unaware of these provisions, making them meaningless.
Mandatory vaccination with Gardasil is simply a bad idea. Parents must be given real choices, not manipulated into making ones chosen by politicians and drug companies. As for me, the choice is simple. My daughter will be, to paraphrase a certain ad campaign sweeping the state's airwaves, "one less."
One less unnecessary vaccine recipient. And my hope is that California will be one less. One less state swept up in the hysteria of indiscriminate vaccination.