Friday, February 09, 2007

What in the world is going on with Gardasil?

Last Friday, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order - an executive order - that Merck’s HPV vaccine, Gardasil, be required for all Texas girls entering 6th grade, beginning September, 2008.[1] Well.

We discussed The HPV Vaccine a couple of weeks ago, and we’ll recall that human papilloma virus (HPV) is a virus, transmitted by sexual contact, and which causes venereal warts (condylomata) and cervical dysplasia, a precursor to cervical cancer. Since most cervical cancers originate in HPV induced cervical dysplasia, it is fair to call cervical cancer a sexually transmitted disease. Transformation from dysplasia to malignancy takes years, even decades, and it’s quite predictable; that's why cervical cytology screening programs - the venerable Pap smear and its modern congeners - are so effective. Prior to the 1950’s, cervical cancer was the number one cancer killer of women in the U.S. It still is, in the third world, but in developed countries cervical cancer has been pushed way down: in 2007, the NCI estimates 11,000 new cases, and 3700 cancer related deaths.[2] However, HPV infection remains ubiquitous and costly, in terms of dollars for treatment and screening programs, as well as medical morbidity.

Gardasil protects against four of the most common high risk HPV subtypes, which account for 70% of cervical dysplasia and 90% of genital warts. The three shot series costs $360.00. Duration of action and need for boosters is unknown. It is not manufactured using material derived from aborted babies, and therefore does not have the moral problems of those other Merck products, Varivax and the rubella component of MMR II. Gardasil does not eliminate the need for screening programs. The presumption is that cervical cancer rates will decrease with mass vaccination, but that is by no means certain, and it may be years (decades?) before the effect, if any, will be seen, due to the long latency from infection to invasive disease.

In June, 2006, the Advisory Council on Vaccine Practices “recommended” universal vaccination with Gardasil for all girls starting at age 11, but starting as early as age 9. That same month, it was approved by the FDA. These recommendations were incorporated into the American Academy of Pediatrics immunization guidelines.[3] ACIP recommendations quickly the form of law, and twenty six states including Texas are considering mandating the vaccine,[4] [5] [6] The Catholic Medical Association encourages its use, but “...rejects mandate that girls be vaccinated.”[7] The National Catholic Bioethics Center has taken a similar position.[8]

With all this data firmly in hand, it is time to consider Governor Perry’s action. An executive order. That seems to imply a clear and present danger, so great that things cannot await their usual course. The Governor likened HPV to polio, but that comparison is absurd. HPV is not “like polio”, or smallpox, or any other serious, highly transmissible vaccine preventable illness. It is a disease obtained by sexual intercourse, vaginal, anal or oral, and by no other route. It is slow and indefinite in its effects (many cases spontaneously regress). Yes, it is a big public health problem. But it is not a public health emergency. A little girl who goes to school is not going to get HPV by sitting next to someone who has it. Parents may elect to vaccinate their little girls with Gardasil, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is a violation of the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity for a governing body to require this vaccine, because the State is arrogating to itself a right and a role which belongs to the parents: proper training of the child regarding sex. In other words, the State has no moral right to order me to vaccinate my girls with Gardasil. Governor Perry’s executive order strikes me as a florid misuse of his power.

So, what in the world is going on with Gardasil? I don’t know. Perhaps many of the people involved in this, including Governor Perry, are truly well meaning. But they are misinformed. The question isn’t whether Gardasil is a potentially useful vaccine. It is; and I’m not against the vaccine per se. If the state wants to allocate money to make it available, that’s fine. But the disease doesn’t warrant universal mandatory vaccination.

Merck will make a ton of money on this. Wall Street estimates that 60% of the price of the vaccine will be profit[9], which comes to $72.00 profit per shot. Seventy two dollars times every American girl age 11 or more, then that number times three (three shots, remember?) and that’s a lot of dollars - estimates up to $4 billion[10]. There is much on the internet about a money trail between Merck and those who make public policy.[11] Now, companies give money to politicians of their choice, which is to be expected. However, if the allegations are true, it is wrong for Merck to try to purchase legislation requiring that people use their product.

Finally, we have the nanny state. The State is increasingly usurping the rights of parents, usually under the guise of “what’s best for the child,” and the medical establishment has been a willing accomplice. Regarding Gardasil, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends it " routinely given to girls when they are 11 or 12...".[12] The American Academy of Family Practice concurs with the ACIP recommendations,[13] and we have already discussed the AAP. This should come as no surprise, insofar as these organizations have pushed contraception among minors, with or without parental knowledge, for years.[14] It becomes increasingly difficult for me to view these organizations dispassionately when so much of what they teach so blatantly reflects left wing political agendas.

In summary: I am not opposed to mass vaccination in principle. I am not opposed to Gardasil in principle. I am opposed to mandatory vaccination with Gardasil. If you want to use Gardasil, or have your little girls vaccinated with it, go right ahead. But its use should not be mandated.

[1] Texas Gov. orders anti-cancer vaccine. by Liz Austin Peterson, AP Writer, Available at
[2] Cervical cancer. National Cancer Institute Cancer Topics, available at
[3] Recommended Immunizations Schedules for Children and Adolescents - United States, 2007. Pediatrics 2007; 119:207-208. Available at
[4] Drug firm pushes vaccine mandate. by Laura Smitherman, 29 January 2007, available at
[5] Daily Women’s Health Policy in Daily Reports, 1 Feb 2007,
[6] STD vaccine campaign sweeping the nation. by Bob Unruh WorldNetDaily 8 Feb 2007 at
[7] CMA Issues Statement on Implementation of HPV Vaccine. 18 January 2007. Catholic Medical Association,
[8] NCBC Statement on Vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). National Catholic Bioethics Center, 11 July 2006.
[9] Drug firm pushes, ibid. See the pie chart labeled “HPV Vaccine”
[10] STD campaign, ibid.
[11] Drug firm pushes, ibid. See also:
STD campaign, ibid. See also:
Family group compares HPV vaccine to condoms. by Bob Unruh WorldNet Daily 6 Feb 2007 at
See also:
Trouble for Texas Catholics: Governor Violates Parental Authority - Kowtows to Merck. Children of God for Life 5 February 2007, available at

[12] HPV Vaccine - ACOG Recommendations, 4 August 2006. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at
[13] AAFP Provisional Recommendations for the Use of Quadrivalent HPV Vaccine. 7 September 2006. American Academy of Family Practice, available at
[14] Policies and Materials on Adolescent Health of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 29 January 2007. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at The entire section reads as follows:
Sex and Family Life Education:"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports the inclusion of age-appropriate sexuality education from grades kindergarten through 12th grade as an integral part of comprehensive health education in schools and communities. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourages its members to advocate for and participate in such education." "All sexuality education programs should provide scientifically accurate information about sexuality, STDs, contraception, and preventive health care." ACOG supports “ongoing rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of a variety of forms of sexuality education in terms of their effect on sexual behavior, as well as unintended pregnancy and abortion rates."
Contraception or Family Planning for Minors:"Health professionals have an obligation to provide the best possible care to respond to the needs of their adolescent patients. This care should, at a minimum, include comprehensive reproductive health services, such as sexuality education, counseling… [and] access to contraceptives ..." "Legal barriers that restrict the freedom of health care practitioners to provide these services should be removed."
Reproductive Health Services For Adolescents:"The potential health risks to adolescents if they are unable to obtain reproductive health services are so compelling that legal barriers and deference to parental involvement should not stand in the way of needed health care for patients who request confidentiality. Therefore, laws and regulations that are unduly restrictive of adolescents' confidential access to reproductive health care should be revised."
Confidentiality: " Because the involvement of a concerned adult can contribute to the health and success of an adolescent, policies in health care settings should encourage and facilitate communication between a minor and her parent(s), when appropriate." "Most adolescents underuse existing health care services. A major obstacle to the delivery of health care to adolescents is their concern about confidentiality." "… physicians should work with the political process to eliminate laws unduly restrictive of confidential health services for adolescents." “To overcome barriers to confidentiality imposed by legal and economic constraints, physicians should discuss confidentiality with both the adolescent girl and, where appropriate, her parent(s) or guardian(s). Health care provides should be familiar with current state and local statutes on the rights of minors to consent to healthcare services, as well as those federal and state laws that affect confidentiality. It also is important to involve and inform office staff about those policies and procedures that facilitate and ensure confidentiality." Available at

See also:
Adolescent Health Care. American Academy of Family Practice, at
Specifically, the subsection entitled. "Sexuality and Contraception", Part C. "Adolescents receiving contraceptive services should be accorded strict patient confidentiality." Available at

It is true that many state laws require physicians to provide contraception without parental knowledge, but the medical establishment has not opposed these laws.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The previous editorial is at best misguided. If you take a public health look at cervical cancer worldwide, 250,000 women will die from the disease and twice that many will contract it. That differs dramatically from the United States rates of 10,000 contracting and only a third of that will die. What is the difference? Education about the disease, available healthcare, pap smears, treatment, etc. But if you don't mandate a vaccination program, the only ones protected will be the ones who have access to education and treatment. The state with the highest cervical cancer rate in United states? Alabama. Mostly rural, poverty stricken areas are affected most in the state. See the coorelation? No mandate. No vaccination. Girls die. How is that for a link? So I suppose the original post should include a statement like, "as long as it is not your daughter."