By. Jane Field
With the advent of a new vaccine whose aim is to prevent cancer, controversy has erupted between the family values of â€śabstinence only,â€? and the legal and medical benefits of the drug.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, the new vaccine manufactured by Merck & Co. Inc. The vaccine prevents infections from four strains of the human paollomavirus, or HPV.
Carol Carlson, M.D., a pediatrician with Southdale Pediatrics, said she was excited about the new vaccine. â€śIâ€™m absolutely a believer in any vaccine, especially any that prevent fatal diseases,â€? she said. â€śThis is the first vaccine dedicated to the prevention of cancer.â€?
HPV has no cure and can lead to cervical cancer, which kills 3,700 women in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new vaccine does not cure the virus, and health care providers still encourage women to have their routine pelvic exams.
The vaccine is administered in three doses that cost $120 per dose. The CDC recommends that the best time for the vaccine to be taken is when a girl has not yet become sexually active because she had not been introduced to any of the 100 strains of HPV.
The vaccine was tested in more than 11,000 women from age 9 to 26-years-old from 13 countries. â€śThe side effects at this point are minimal,â€? said Dr. Carlson. â€śFlu like symptoms, aches, and soreness at the sight of injection are normal with any vaccine.â€?
The vaccine was apparently so effective that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, an independent group, called for an early end to the clinical trials so that the women who were receiving the placebo injection could receive the real vaccine.
In June of 2006, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved the vaccine and added it to their list of vaccines for children. Dr. Carlson hopes for it to be added to the list of childhood immunizations.
Worries about the vaccine come from family organizations and parents of children who believe that the vaccine will promote sexual activity at an earlier age. â€ś
Family groups such as Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council (FRC), support the vaccine but want to make sure that parents should make the decision to inoculate their children, not state legislatures.
FRC, a Washington, D.C. based organization devoted to the development of families, supports the idea for the vaccine, but would rather emphasize the â€śabstinence onlyâ€? method of prevention. The argument being that given the vaccine, young women might be more inclined to become sexually active at a younger age.
Moira Gaul, a policy analyst for the FRC, wrote a letter to the CDC and the ACIP in which she stated that, â€śparents have an inherent right to be the primary educator and decision maker regarding their children's health, we would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination or to coerce parents into authorizing it.â€?
According to the CDC, it is common for insurance companies to hold back on covering the cost of the prescription when a vaccine is so new.
Ash Hane, 23, is a student at the University of Minnesota. When she looked into getting the vaccine, she was angered to find out that her insurance did not cover it. â€śInsurance companies are hopping on board. With every vaccine there is a lag time,â€? Dr. Carlson said. It is best to check with your insurance provider before receiving the vaccine.
â€śHereâ€™s the deal, cancer sucks,â€? Hane said. â€śThe cost of treating cancer outweighs the cost of covering the vaccine.â€? She said she cannot understand why the vaccine is not covered.
Dr. Carlson said, â€ślittle is known about the long-term effects of the vaccine.â€? Since the clinical trials were so short, researchers have yet to test the vaccine in women over the age of 26 and it is not know if the vaccine would even be safe for them, or whether the vaccines will last just a few years or for much longer.
Minnesota is among 24 states, to introduce bills into their Legislature that would require girlsâ€™ ages nine and up to receive the Gardasil vaccine as part of their childhood immunizations before entering schools.
The Minnesota bill, which is pending, would require 12-year-old girls to be vaccinated before attending school and parents would have the option of refusing the vaccine.
Virginia was the first state to pass the bill into law. Starting in October of 2008, girls entering the sixth grade will have to be vaccinated. However, the bill also allows parents to opt for not having the inoculation.
At least four of the states have dropped the bill, but the other 19 are still considering their bills.
While the long-term effects are still unknown and the debate is far from over. â€śMore and more parents of adolescents are requesting the vaccine,â€? Dr. Carlson said. The CDC and FDA will continue to monitor the safety of the vaccine after it hits the mainstream vaccine plans. Hane said she wants the vaccine because anything to prevent cancer should be done. Dr. Carlson looks at the vaccine as the â€śwave of the future.â€?