Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cancer vaccine for Ontario girls

I've often been known to criticize government officials here in Canada, but not today. Today, I'm standing up and cheering. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced a $39-million plan to give free voluntary vaccinations to girls in grade 8 in Ontario against the most deadly forms of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer.

In other places, moral zealots have prevented making this life-saving vaccine available to teenagers, because HPV is transmitted sexually, and they think that putting girls at risk of a horrible death by cancer is either a suitable deterrent or a suitable punishment for premarital sex. I'm glad I live in an enlightened place, and today, even though I happen to temporarily be away from home, I'm proud to be an Ontarian. My tax dollars at work -- and I'm genuinely thrilled.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At August 08, 2007 4:28 PM , Blogger David B. Ellis said...

Wow. I live in the "bible belt" and I still find it amazing that anyone would want prevent girls from receiving this vaccine.

For that matter, I hadn't realized there was a vaccine for it yet.

At August 08, 2007 10:11 PM , Blogger J0hnnyB said...

It's not just moral zealots who are opposing the roll-out of the vaccine. There are concerns about potential side effects and whether PAP smears already done are enough to prevent most cases:

"What's the rush? Why can't we get the information that we need first?" Abby Lippman, a professor in the department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University in Montreal, told CBC News.

"There's a potential for unexpected effects, so why don't we get this information to make sure that we have a system in place that will really protect and promote women's health?"

At August 08, 2007 10:42 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Yeah, there are SOME small number of people who object on other grounds, and, in our modern journalistic fashion, we give equal time to each side of a story, no matter how many people are on each side.

At August 08, 2007 11:45 PM , Blogger redlion said...

Yeah, I find nothing to criticise here ... other than that it's taken them long enough. Of course we'll find something to slam them for, there is an election coming in October.

At August 09, 2007 3:12 AM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

And it doesn't just help with cancer. Some women and men find the removal of genital warts to be a painful and traumatic experience. And it was fascinating that they chose to not only include protection against the two strains most likely to cause cancer, but the two strains most likely to cause warts.

I do worry a bit about possible side effects, but so far Gardasil is only available in a preservative-free formula, which keeps it largely free from the thimerosal controversy.

However, to play devil's advocate, I would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of the use of this vaccine vs. lives saved and savings in health care hours resources and dollars. Is $36 million in Ontario alone a worthwhile expense for something that kills 400 people per year. I imagine it is, given the second- and third-order effects (extra taxes paid by living people, for instance), but I'd like to be able to put that controversy to rest.

Too bad studies cost so much money.

Also, it would be nice to know how much of the cost of each HPV vaccine can be accounted for by the massive advertising campaign and intense lobbying effort. I think it's a great product with the ability to change the world for the better and that there were forces behind it at Merck other than corporate greed. Still, I wonder if it will forever be priced out of the range of most of the world.

At August 09, 2007 9:18 AM , Blogger J0hnnyB said...

The number of people on either "side" of a story is not relevant. The quality of the arguments is.

I think this researcher raises some very important concerns.

The vaccine is expensive. Is it the best use of taxpayer dollars? Is education and PAP smears a better use?

The vaccine has only gone through one trial. The longest its effects have been monitored in 18 months.

And HPV does not necessarily lead to cancer, although the "tell someone" ads Merck Frosst commissioned might have you believe otherwise.

Just because the religious right is against something doesn't mean it's a good idea.

At August 09, 2007 1:14 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the vaccine being offered to Ontario schoolgirls: CDC Recommends HPV Vaccine

At August 10, 2007 5:20 PM , Anonymous Brian L. Raney said...

J0hnnyB said, “The vaccine is expensive. Is it the best use of taxpayer dollars? Is education and PAP smears a better use?”

Compared to the expense of treating cancer, death is the ultimate expense. No amount of money can bring you back once you're gone.

J0hnnyB said, “Just because the religious right is against something doesn't mean it's a good idea.”

Speaking to the quality of an argument: Just because you can use a strawman doesn’t mean you should. The religious right used non-scientific, political reasons for rejecting the vaccine. That’s why their positions on its dispensation is suspect by those of us who see the benefits to society at large.

At August 15, 2007 1:33 AM , Blogger Catholig said...

What about the fact that it doesn't treat every strain of HPV and that it may open young women up to contracting the very disease that they are trying to prevent?

The fact that some admittedly religious people, while not wanting that their own children should contract this disease, feel that for the government to immunize them against Sexually Transmitted Diseases, before they are even legally have sex (16, I think?), would amount to a wink and a nod?

At August 15, 2007 1:37 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

As Pierre Trudeau, Canada's prime minister once upon a time, said, "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." It doesn't wink or nod -- nor does it frown or shake fingers.

As for the risk-benefit analysis -- did you read the documents I linked to from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration?

At August 15, 2007 1:42 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Also, you're missing the point that the vaccine is most effective if administered BEFORE the woman becomes sexually active.

At August 15, 2007 2:00 AM , Blogger Catholig said...

To be honest I didn't read the link you posted, before posting my questions, and still have yet to read it in its entirety. One thing that I do find interesting, however, is the efficiency section of your link. Not to appear ignorant, but how exactly would they test the length of immunity? Do they expose the women who took the shots to the disease, every year or so? That sounds potentially dangerous if nothing else.

Also I would like to add that, while not in anyway showing agreement with the "what happens behind closed doors" style quote, I take it to be in reference to adults - not teenagers. Otherwise there wouldn't be a minimum age of consent. I also can't image that that quote answers the question I posed concerning the government ignoring the sensitivities of some of her citizens (i.e. parents), and enabling their children to break the law.

At August 15, 2007 2:27 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Catholig, I realize this probably offends your sensibilities, but in point of fact the age of consent in Canada is FOURTEEN. "The Criminal Code does not now criminalize consensual sexual activity with or between persons 14 or over, unless it takes place in a relationship of trust or dependency, in which case sexual activity with persons over 14 but under 18 can constitute an offence, notwithstanding their consent. Even consensual activity with those under 14 but over 12 may not be an offence if the accused is under 16 and less than two years older than the complainant. The exception, of course, is anal intercourse, to which unmarried persons under 18 cannot legally consent, although both the Ontario Court of Appeal(3) and the Quebec Court of Appeal(4) have struck down the relevant section of the Criminal Code."

See here.


Post a Comment

<< Home