You may have already read my column on the HPV vaccine. In case you haven’t, I’ve reprinted some of it below, complete with annotations, because something is in the works and you need to know about it.
Read on.
For months now, almost every time I’ve opened a magazine I’ve seen a colorful ad, complete with postcards, urging me to “tell someone” that cervical cancer is caused by “certain strains of a common virus.” The ad, which is also featured in a nearly ubiquitous television commercial, might lead you to assume that science has just discovered that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
The ads would have you believe that the HPV virus is common (it is) and lurking to assault the unwary at every turn (it isn’t). I visited a web page where one woman wrote in to complain that the ads had convinced her that “catching” HPV was as simple as picking up a common cold. [1]
Wrong. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and its link to cervical cancer has been well-established. In his 1985 book, 1250 Health Care Questions Women Ask, Dr. Joel McIlhaney wrote, “This explains what doctors have known for years about the character of cervical cancer: it is more likely to occur in women who started having intercourse early and who have had many sexual partners . . . If she has had two sexual partners, she has doubled her chance of having this type of change of her cervix. If she has three sexual partners during her lifetime, she has three times the normal risk. This pattern continues up to as many sexual partners a woman might have . . .”[2]
Why the sudden publicity about HPV? Simple. Merck, a pharmaceutical company, has developed Gardasil, a vaccine for four strains of the HPV virus, two of which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.[3] They can afford to spend advertising dollars—the vaccine, when it becomes available this fall, should cost between $350-500.[4]
The fine print: in order for Gardasil to be effective, it should be administered before a woman becomes sexually active. A federal advisory panel recommended that the three-dose vaccine be given to all eleven and twelve year old girls.[5] Never mind that the rate of cervical cancer is dropping[6]; never mind that the virus is defeated by most people’s immune systems without causing any symptoms whatsoever.[7]
Advocates of the vaccine want to vaccinate nearly four million girls[8] in this country to prevent a cancer that will affect less than ten thousand American women this year.[9] Yet there are more than 100 types of HPV, and Gardasil only protects against four. Other strains of HPV can cause other cancers. I would list them, but if you’re like me, you’re reading this over your breakfast.[10]
Okay, now the update: Merck is putting lots of money behind efforts to pass state laws REQUIRING girls as young as 11 or 12 to receive this new vaccine. They are funneling money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators.
We must not let ourselves be dumb sheep, herded into fuzzy thinking and illogic by those who talk about “cures for cancers” when the facts show that this vaccine is far from that.
Read up. Stay informed.
Given our sexually-themed culture (seen any teen movies lately?), I can understand why
a parent might think it logical to provide their children with contraceptives and vaccinations.
But what are we teaching by providing such things? We cannot remove all of the consequences—there are other strains of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases–so we may be fostering a false sense of invulnerability.
I’m of the opinion that we get what we honor . . . and, to a large degree, what we expect. No mere human is perfect and we all have our weaknesses. But part of growing wise includes learning how to exercise self-control.
So yes, tell someone. Find someone close to you and tell them that you believe in their ability to make good decisions.
[2] Dr. Joel McIlhaney, 1250 Health Care Questions Women Ask, Baker Books, 1985.
[5] Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2006,
[8] Calculated from US Census data—there are approx. 3,915,276 11-12 year old girls in this country.
[9] In 2006, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States, and that about 3,700 women will die from the disease.
[10] : Does genital HPV cause any other diseases?
A: Yes, certain “high-risk” types of HPV can cause other cancers and consequences, including cancer of the vagina, vulva, and anus.

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