They’re repealing it in the name of sexual abstinence, family values and apple pie. In the name of keeping government out of private health-care decisions — and, yes, they say that with a straight face.
A body count doesn’t bother them.
Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, which infects about 80 percent of sexually active adults by age 40. Most don’t even know they have it.
But, in some women, the virus mutates cells lining the cervix, turning them into cancerous lesions. About 12,000 women each year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,000 of them will die of it, according to the National Cancer Institute.
This vaccine would prevent nearly all that cancer. All that death.
Yet for moral reasons, not medical, the GOP-controlled House voted last month to eliminate the state’s 2007 requirement that girls receive the vaccine before enrolling in sixth grade. (The vaccine is most effective before the onset of sexual activity.)
The bill now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it’s also expected to pass.
Lawmakers in Richmond weren’t swayed by appeals to conscience, to logic or to medicine. They didn’t care that the law already allows parents to decline the vaccine for their child for any reason whatsoever. They even rejected an amendment by a socially conservative colleague, Del. Chris Stolle, to at least get information about the vaccine to Virginia parents so they can make their own decision. Stolle is an obstetrician-gynecologist from Virginia Beach.
But conservative politicians and parents contend the vaccine will only encourage minors to have unprotected sex. As if the dim prospect of possibly developing cervical cancer in 20 or 30 years ever encouraged abstinence in teens.
The flip side of that reasoning, of course, is that if minors do have sex, they deserve whatever they get.
Vaccine proponents are gnashing their teeth. If only HPV weren’t identified as a “female problem,” they say, maybe lawmakers would take it more seriously. More compassionately. Maybe they’d give a damn.
Well, good news for everybody:
Researchers now predict that HPV will soon cause more head and neck cancers than cervical cancers.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology last October claims that rates of oropharyngeal cancer — a type of oral cancer — has jumped dramatically in the U.S. since 1984, “with HPV-related tumors accounting for a growing majority of new cases.”
“These increases may reflect increases in sexual behavior,” wrote the study’s lead author, Maura Gillison, “including increases in oral sex.”
Gillison is professor of medicine and Jeg Coughlin Chair of Cancer Research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus.
In 1984, only 16 percent of oral cancer was HPV-related. By 2004, that number had rocketed to more than 72 percent. Based on these rates, researchers predict the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers will outpace cervical cancer by 2020.
The kicker? The HPV vaccine would also prevent virtually all HPV-positive oral cancers.
Do you think this revelation will sway social conservatives to stop the repeal?
Hell no. If anything, it will only convince holier-than-thous that the vaccine must be banished not only from Virginia public schools, but from the face of the God-fearing earth.
You see, such people can’t be reasoned with. They don’t care that a woman can stay chaste till marriage, only to be infected by a bridegroom who didn’t. They don’t care that a woman — or a child — can be raped. They don’t care that a woman can trust too much or make the wrong choices. They don’t care that men account for much of the increase in oral cancers.
And these people are in Richmond — running roughshod.
That’s not just a woman’s problem. That’s everybody’s problem.
This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.