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Acceptance/rejection of the Gardasil® vaccine
to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV)

2005 to 2012:
Its limited acceptance in U.S., Canada, etc.
Merck halts lobbying effort.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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More early objections to, and acceptance of, the Gardasil vaccine in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world:

  • In the United States: Particularly during the Bush Administration, the U.S. government had been heavily funding abstinence only sex-education classes in high schools. In these sex-ed classes, the dangers of sexual activity (unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)) are emphasized. However, no helpful information is given to students on how to prevent pregnancy or STI transmissions. Also, some of the information given to students is invalid. The result is that those students who decide to become sexually active, or may become so in the future, have no prevention information, except that which they might be able to pick upon on the Internet, from health units, peers, etc.

Many religious and social conservatives give an extremely high priority to teen celibacy and feel that abstinence only education is the way to achieve this. Being knowledgeable about the hazards of sexual behavior while being ignorant of prevention methods makes sex an extremely hazardous activity, because those teens who become sexually active would not know how to avoid both pregnancy and the transmission of STIs.

If they remain unvaccinated and decide to remain celibate until marriage, they might still be infected with HPV:

  • As a result of rape;

  • As a result of "outercourse" -- close physical contact short of intercourse involving skin to skin contact;

  • By marrying a man who is already infected with HPV, as most potential husbands are or have been; or

  • By changing her mind and becoming sexually active and eventually having sex with someone infected with HPV.

As the Family Research Council stated:

"... we also recognize that HPV infection can result from sexual abuse or assault, and that a person may marry someone still carrying the virus. These provide strong reasons why even someone practicing abstinence and fidelity may benefit from HPV vaccines." 1

In those states where compulsory vaccination is not required for high school attendance, parents have to individually decide which is the more troublesome concern:

  • The possibility of their daughter contracting HPV and later dying from cervical cancer, or

  • The unknown -- at the time -- risk that she might become more sexually active as a result of having received the vaccination.

Obviously, it was of paramount importance for human sexuality researchers to investigate the degree -- if any -- by which sexual experimentation will increase among teens who are vaccinated against HPV. Religiously conservative parents desperately needed this information in order to make this very important decision on behalf of their daughters. As of early 2007, surveys had shown that the risk of increased sexual activity is undetectably small or zero. However, these surveys may have been biased. They were conducted by pharmaceutical companies and/or public health groups whose prime motivations were making a profit and/or saving lives. We were unable to find any data from surveys sponsored by religious conservative groups.

In 2005, Greg Zimet of Indiana University in Indianapolis, IL was optimistic that the problem of parental resistance to the vaccine may prove to be a non-issue. The U.S. New Scientist magazine reported in 2005-APR that:

"His surveys in the US show parents overwhelmingly favor getting their daughters vaccinated. 'Doctors tend to fear the worst,' he says." 2

However, almost a decade later in 2014, only a minority of girls were protected by the full course of the vaccine.

  • In Canada: Acceptance of the vaccine was expected to be higher than in the U.S., if for no other reason than the presence of a lower percentage of religious conservatives in the country. Also, the vaccine is provided free under the universal health care system. A pilot survey of 73 girls aged 13 to 17 and 73 of their parents in Nova Scotia indicated that over 75% would accept it. The study found that 30% of the girls were sexually active, with a mean age for first sexual experience of 14.5 years. Monique MacFarlane Conrad, who led the study by the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax said:

"The findings were actually quite similar between both parents and teenagers. There was overwhelming approval for the vaccine."

MacFarlane Conrad, a third-year medical student at Dalhousie University said:

"There were very few people who said, 'No, no way.' Those who said 'maybe,' what they wanted was clarification, what they wanted was more information, particularly from their doctor. If their doctor said it was safe and they could be reassured that this vaccine was necessary . . . then they would accept it."

Focus on the Family, Canada published a generally positive comment on the HPV vaccine on 2006-JUN-09. They wrote:

" 'The possibility of an ethically produced vaccine [to prevent HPV] is good news,' added Focus on the Family Canada senior vice-president Derek Rogusky. 'However, it is important that parents and families be given the choice of whether or not they will make use of this new product, when and if it is approved for use in Canada. Regardless of the availability of an HPV vaccine, sexual abstinence and marital faithfulness remain the best preventative measures for HPV and sexually transmitted infections'." 3

However, by 2012, inoculation rates remained much lower than public health officials had hoped for:

    "Canadian health officials had hoped that 90 per cent of girls would be receiving the three-shot vaccine against the sexually transmitted virus by now [2012-APR]. But just 59 per cent of Grade 8 Ontario girls were vaccinated in 2009-2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Similarly “disappointing” numbers have been recorded in other provinces. ..."

    " 'The vaccination rates are disappointingly low,' says Dr. Joan Robinson, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s infectious diseases and immunization committee. 'At the beginning, there was lots of misinformation out there and lots of parents didn’t understand why on earth we would be vaccinating little girls, as young as nine in some provinces, against sexually transmitted diseases'." 4

The immunization programs in Ontario have been impeded by the decision by two Roman Catholic school boards in the province to not let their Grade 8 girls be vaccinated. 4 Fred Henry, the Catholic bishop of Alberta, has been known for his strong opposition to same-sex marriage. He and other bishops in Alberta have decided that it is morally acceptable for a child to receive the vaccination, but it is morally wrong for a Catholic institution, like the province's separate school system, to make it happen. 5 According to the Calgary Sun, the bishops' veto viewed "... the use of the vaccine ... as an invitation for teen girls to become promiscuous." 6

  • Elsewhere in the world: The situation may be very different. Resistance to the vaccine may be high.

Anne Szarewski of the charity Cancer Research UK was involved in one of the vaccine trials in England. She found:

"... that some Asian women in Britain are afraid even to get tested for HPV infection, because they say if it is positive they will be killed, never mind that their husbands probably gave it to them."

She feels that such attitudes may mean that HPV vaccination may be a non-starter in such communities. 2

There is still another consideration concerning the HPV vaccine: could it be made available to women in non-developed countries at an affordable cost?

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Merck halts lobbying effort:

In mid 2007-FEB, Merck, the developers of Gardasil, terminated its program of lobbying of state legislators to require the inoculation of school students. Some public health officials and medical organizations had contacted the company suggesting that its campaign was counter-productive. The lobbying was fueling objections to the vaccine. That could undermine its widespread adoption. Dr. Haupt said that:

"They believe the timing for the school requirements is not right. ... Our goal is to prevent cervical cancer. Our goal is to reach as many females as possible. Right now, school requirements and Merckís involvement in that are being viewed as a distraction to that goal."

Universal inoculation of pre-pubertal girls would eventually prevent on the order of 10,000 occurrences of cervical cancer per year and save the lives of about 4,000 women per year in the U.S.

Illinois State Senator Debbie Halvorson (D) who had a hysterectomy as a result of having been infected by the Human Papillomavirus, sponsored a bill to make the vaccine mandatory in her state. She complemented Merck on its decision, saying:

"If the people out there are thinking that Merck is doing all this, and pushing our buttons, they need to just step away. The fact that Iím doing what Iím doing has nothing to do with Merck." 7

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This topic continues on the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Moira Gaul, "Family Research Council Statement Regarding HPV Vaccines," Family Research Council, 2006-FEB-21, at: http://www.frc.org/
  2. Debora MacKenzie, "Will cancer vaccine get to all women?" NewScientist.com news service, 2005-APR-18, at: http://www.newscientist.com/
  3. "HPV vaccine nears approval," Focus on the Family-Canada, Today's Family News, 2006-JUN-09, at: http://www.fotf.ca/
  4. Shelly Page, "Five years later, HPV vaccination rates still 'disappointingly low'," Ottawa Citizen, 2012-APR-30, at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/
  5. Rick Bell, "Calgary bishop won't back down on HPV vaccine — or anything else," Calgary Sun, 2012-JUN-27, at: http://www.calgarysun.com/
  6. Bill Kaufmann, "HPV crusaders set to sue Calgary's Catholic school board over anti-vaccination stance," Calgary Sun, 2012-OCT-13, at: http://www.calgarysun.com/
  7. Andrew Pollack & Stephanie Saul, "Lobbying for vaccine to be halted," New York Times, 2007-FEB-21, at:  http://www.nytimes.com/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2007-JAN-08
Last updated 2014-JUL-28

Author: Bruce A Robinson
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