Suppression of Vaccine for Cervical Cancer

Christian Fascists to Women: “Abstinence or Death”

Revolution #044, April 23, 2006, posted at

Imagine a society that discovered a vaccine for a type of cancer, a vaccine that would save thousands of lives, but powerful forces in the government didn’t want it to be used because it conflicted with their religious beliefs. Well, you don’t have to imagine because this is what’s going on today in George W. Bush’s America.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. Although most of the strains of the virus are relatively benign, HPV is the cause of most cases of cervical cancer, a disease that kills more than 250,000 women each year worldwide, striking hardest in the poorest countries where basic gynecological health care is rare or nonexistent. Nearly 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year in the United States, where poor women without access to basic health care are also the hardest hit.

Two large pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines that would prevent two strains of HPV that are responsible for approximately 70% of all cervical cancer, according to an article in the New Scientist magazine. The vaccines have proved extraordinarily effective. One study followed 12,000 women for two years; half were given the vaccine and half a placebo. Twenty-one of the women who received the placebo developed the cellular abnormalities that are associated with cancer and other diseases. No women in the vaccinated group showed any sign of the virus.

"This is a cancer vaccine, and an immensely effective one," the Nobel laureate David Baltimore, President of the California Institute of Technology, told Michael Specter of New Yorker magazine. "We should be proud and excited. It has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year."

The HPV vaccines are now under review by the FDA,and approval is expected this year. What happens then will be determined in large part by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which makes recommendations on how a vaccine should be used. In order for the vaccine to be effective, girls would need to be inoculated with it before they become sexually active, and the vaccine would need to be required, like vaccinations for other contagious diseases, such as measles and mumps, before children enter public school.

It is unlikely that this will be the case with the HPV vaccine because powerful forces in the government argue that eliminating the threat of infection would only encourage teenagers to have sex. "I personally object to vaccinating children when they don't need vaccinations, particularly against a disease that is one hundred percent preventable with proper sexual behavior," said Leslee J. Unruh, the founder and president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse.

"Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let's not encourage it by vaccinating ten-year-olds so they think they're safe," said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma.

In 2003, Bush appointed Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for the Christian fascist group Focus on the Family, to the ACIP. Finger said, "Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that 'We expect you to be sexually active.'”

“I never thought that now, in the twenty-first century, we could have a debate about what to do with a vaccine that prevents cancer,” said David Baltimore. “What moral precepts allow us to think that the risk of death is a price worth paying to encourage abstinence as the only approach to sex?”

The Bush administration’s opposition to any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex did not start with the HPV vaccine. It has made every effort to diminish the use of condoms as a method of birth control and AIDS prevention in the United States and throughout the world, a policy that has cost many thousands of lives.

Several years ago, the Centers for Disease Control removed a fact sheet about condoms from its web site. After more than one year the fact sheet reappeared, but instructions on how to use condoms had been replaced by a scientifically inaccurate message saying that condoms were ineffective. The CDC also removed a summary of studies that showed there was no increase in sexual activity among teenagers who had been taught about condoms.

"They were the most horrific examples of manipulating science I have ever seen," a former senior official at the CDC told the New Yorker. "Abstinence is the only thing that matters to this crowd." He asked not to be identified because he is dependent upon receiving government funds in his current job.

Government policy also requires that one-third of HIV-prevention spending—both in the U.S. and worldwide—goes to "abstinence until marriage" programs, which have demonstrated to be ineffective in preventing the spread of HIV. Since Bush became President, the United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on abstinence programs, and it has cut almost that much in aid to groups that support abortion and the use of condoms.

“I always thought it was a bit much to talk about a 'Taliban wing' of the Republican Party,” columnist Ellen Goodman wrote in the Boston Globe.“After all, the real Taliban stoned women to death if they had sex out of wedlock. What sentence would our Taliban choose? Cancer?”

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