Controversy surrounds cancer vaccine Gardasil

by Dr Michael Araco

I’m angry that the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, is causing a splash of alarmist headlines with its introduction in Australia. The vaccine, developed by leading immunologist Ian Frazer, is being administered to 230,000 Australian teenagers in a $400 million federal government initiative.

Gardasil prevents cervical cancer by immunizing against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, known to cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers.

Headlines such as “girls collapse after cancer vaccine? have been frontpage news in Australia warning of side effects such as dizziness and nausea. One Melbourne based social commentator went so far as to suggest in today’s Herald Sun newspaper that the vaccines rollout is just a revenue raiser for the medical profession and urging parents to keep their children from the queue.

That particular article by Neil Mitchell annoyed me as it dramatized a small number of girls who fainted (a common happening to adolescent girls after any injection) but failed to recognize the hundreds of Australian women who die from this preventable disease each year. Heaven help the parents who follow this man’s advice blindly.

I was happier to read the response of “Anne? an immunization nurse who spends her working days administering Gardasil, amongst other vaccines, to school children. While she couldn’t count the hundreds of children (particularly the girls) who have fainted, cried, or reported bizarre non-physical reactions to all injections she has given – she had never seen a child who hadn’t recovered. Her daughters were first in line for Gardasil, and moaned about it as school children do. But they knew how lucky they were.

Ironically the young women who need the vaccine most – those in the poorest nations where cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment is inadequate at best– remain the least likely to receive it with the cost estimated at a prohibitive $300 to $500 a pop. Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation though, who announced last year $27.7 million funding to research methods of introducing Gardasil in developing countries.

Here in the prosperous U. S. of A. only Virginia has passed legislation for compulsory vaccination with Gardasil. Governor Rick Perry of Texas faced an abrupt end to his proposal to vaccinate schoolgirls with the senate blocking him last month. Other states haven’t made it even that far. NewScientist reported some conservative groups believe the vaccine will encourage sexual activity in adolescents by reducing their risks of catching sexually transmitted disease. To me, limiting access to Gardasil for that reason would be like limiting the availability of condoms. While that sort of thinking continues I expect it will be sometime before there will be a nationwide approach to cervical cancer prevention.

In the meantime 15,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Personally I want to see Gardasil introduced as a free compulsory vaccine for all school aged girls across America.

What do you think? Would you have your precious daughters at the front of the queue or are you not convinced?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2007 at 3:08 am and is filed under Uncategorized, Health, Health Care. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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