- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Merck & Co. pharmaceutical company came to its senses last week and stopped a lobbying effort to mandate its new vaccine, Gardasil. Many states and the District have mandated inoculations, and many others are considering requiring the vaccine — which prevents the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer — for 11- to 12-year-old girls. While many would characterize this vaccine as a cure-all cancer preventer, the truth is that it is anything but.

There are 40 types of HPV, some of which cause cervical cancer. Gardasil only prevents four types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, “About 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine.” Therefore, even those who have been inoculated are still at risk. Furthermore, because Gardasil is still in its early stages, the length of immunity is not yet known.

That’s not to say that Gardasil shouldn’t be hailed as a great achievement in the fight against cancer. However, it should not be relied upon to completely prevent cervical cancer, nor should states add it to the list of mandatory inoculations for young girls.

HPV is only transmitted through sexual contact, unlike other diseases for which schoolchildren are required to get vaccines, such as polio and tetanus. The United States has always been on the forefront of vaccination studies and has rightly mandated many inoculations against such easily transmitted diseases. School-age children are simply not at the same risk for contracting HPV as they are for contracting, say, chicken pox. We urge the District and other states to rethink their position on mandating the HPV vaccine.

CDC Chairman Jon Abramson is also against mandating the HPV vaccine. First and foremost, Dr. Abramson said, HPV is not a very communicable disease. Also, as our front-page story said yesterday, “Dr. Abramson said a discussion about making the vaccine mandatory should not be had until states show the money is available to vaccinate every child, adding ‘I don’t see that yet.’ ” The three-shot vaccine costs $360. Where will that money come from?

The pharmaceutical industry has combated highly contagious (and life-threatening) illnesses as mumps, measles and rubella. Scientists in the 20th century were invaluable in ridding our country of such illnesses. The shift in the immigration population means we cannot afford to now turn toward unnecessary vaccination programs. We must continue to focus on keeping deadly communicable diseases at bay as a matter of sound public-health policy.

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