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Tilting at Windmills

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June 9, 2006

FDA APPROVES HPV VACCINE....I was more than a little worried that the FDA would cave to conservative political pressure (again), but the agency clearly did the right thing yesterday.

In what officials called a major public health breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the first vaccine developed to protect women against cervical cancer.

The vaccine, which works by building immunity against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, was found to be effective in preventing almost three-quarters of all cervical cancers.

"This vaccine is a significant advance in the protection of women's health in that it strikes at the infections that are the root cause of many cervical cancers," said FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.

He predicted that the vaccine -- the first ever designed specifically to prevent a cancer -- will have a "dramatic effect" on the health of women worldwide.

The reason this was even a debate at all in public health circles is that some far-right political activists have criticized the vaccine, regardless of its benefits, because they feared young women might believe they can have sex without getting cervical cancer. The Family Research Council explained, "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

Let's be clear: this vaccine offers the promise of preventing cervical cancer and saving thousands of lives. For some conservatives, however, it comes down to a fairly straightforward position: The vaccine may lead to more pre-marital sex, which ultimately trumps everything else.

To be fair, not every conservative group who weighed in on this debate felt that way. Some organizations backed the vaccine, but oppose making it mandatory. That's at least open to some debate.

But there was nevertheless a sizable religious right bloc that fought this vaccine every step of the way. Fortunately, the FDA had the good sense to look past their callousness.

Steve Benen 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Comments

Until Al and I are able to have sex, NO ONE should be allowed to have sex!!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on June 9, 2006 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Basically, all medical treatment should be denied to all post-pubescent people (say that three times fast) of either sex. If they live, they may see their survival as license to have premarital sex.

:-/

Posted by: sidewinder on June 9, 2006 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

But there was nevertheless a sizable religious right bloc that fought this vaccine every step of the way. Fortunately, the FDA had the good sense to look past their callousness.
Steve Benen

'Callousness' doesn't go far enough by half in condemning this.

Posted by: CFShep on June 9, 2006 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

The same FDA that believes there's no safety issue with benzene in our soft drinks?

Posted by: Mike H. on June 9, 2006 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

This is a plot by the liberals to appease the Jersey girls who can now enjoy with complete abandon their ill gotten gains from their husbands' deaths.

Posted by: coulter on June 9, 2006 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

I am so sick of hearing the phrase "to be fair." Fair is over. Fuck fair. Never be fair again. OK?

Posted by: Farinata X on June 9, 2006 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

This will be a good thing for Fundie families!

They will NOT vaccinate their daughters, so, other people will shun ever having sex with fundies, so their kids have a better shot at staying virgins.

win-win

Posted by: lilybart on June 9, 2006 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Yah, big pharma triumphs over religious nuts.

Posted by: smskater on June 9, 2006 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I guess guys can take this also?

Posted by: tom on June 9, 2006 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Republican leaders can't give the Christian nutjob right any real victories because that bunch is defined by it's victimhood.

Posted by: Joey G. on June 9, 2006 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Not to be a stickler, but i think the Religious Right organizations did originally fight against this vaccine, but realized along the way that if they continued to fight if so strongly they would ostricize themselves and thus there agenda would be toast. This only makes me feel stronger that the people who oppose the Right's agenda need to focus on education and promotion of condom's and birth control as opposed to abortion. The Religious right is opposed to it and it will ostricize them even further because a majority of the population supports this.

To answer the poster above, i dont believe that vaccine has been approved yet for men however, they are testing it now.
jason

Posted by: jlp on June 9, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives say they believe that sex education is the responsibility of the family. Yet they use government to attack science (by blocking vaccines, morning after pills) and education (family education in the schools) suggesting conservatives have no confidence in their ability to influence their own families.

Pharmacists and teachers are professionals -- they don't go around telling kids to engage in pre-marital sex. So how do kids (especially Texas kids -- study the Census!) get this notion in their heads to try sex?

Conservatives hold to a cruel notion that by increasing the amount of human suffering we will discourage out-of-wedlock births and kids will come to know God. But why would a loving God desire people to suffer?

Kids see the contradiction in a flash, and that, in my opinion, is what undermines their confidence in conservatism. It also explains why conservatism focuses so much on politics -- conservative ideology fails to change behavior at home, but it's a great way to gain the approval of your neighbors.

This in my opinion explains the deeply cynical vein running through the heart of the conservative movement -- it's the ideology of control minus the ability to change personal behavior.

How else can you explain the fact that although conservatives dominate in Washington 50 percent of their marriages end in divorce?

Posted by: pj in jesusland on June 9, 2006 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

If the wingnuts had a Jones about traffic safety, their approach would be to scrap seat belts and air bags in favor of a poisoned spike on the steering wheel, pointed straight at the driver's chest. That would certainly cut down on careless driving.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on June 9, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

This morning, while getting ready for work and watching the morning news shows I saw two commercials for the vaccine.

Religious right vs. the pharmaceutical companies? They never had a chance.

Posted by: majun on June 9, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

This is good news. But not at all surprising. In fact, far right groups never outright opposed the vaccine. Theyre too savvy to decry what is effectively a cancer vaccine. The real battle for this vaccine is still going on. June 29 the CDCs Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issues their recommendations for how the vaccine should be administered. While the ACIP decisions are non-binding, it sets the standard by which states decide if they will mandate vaccination, insurance companies choose to cover the cost, and doctors decide how to advise their patients.

The right is fighting for the ACIP to make the vaccine completely voluntary which would mean that insurance companies and Medicaid wont cover the $300-$500 cost of the vaccine. The worst news is that Reginald Finger (of Focus on the Family) sits on the ACIP and has already said he is worried the HPV vaccine will undermine the abstinence-only message. We can only hope that the other members of the ACIP see Dr. Finger for the religious zealot he is and make their decisions based on whats best for public health.

Posted by: Madeline on June 9, 2006 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

sheesh. We're already vaccinating babies for Hepatitis, which is commonly transmitted sexually or by sharing dirty needles. No one sees a moral contradiction in that. So why is vaccinating pre-pubescent girls for HPV a problem? Or boys for that matter?

Posted by: quietann on June 9, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

And the right wing calls us the "Party of Death?"

Posted by: brewmn on June 9, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

The Family Research Council's current position is that the quote you have was taken out of context and that no conservative group is against this drug. They are concerned about making it mandatory.

Posted by: Chad on June 9, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

...conservatives have no confidence in their ability to influence their own families.

Ultimately, this is what it's all about. If you look at fundamentalist religions with insanely strict and complex rules controlling all aspects of female dress, sexual behavior, segregation of the sexes, etc. it really all comes down to a tacit admission of failure in my view. For example, if your code dictates that women must not appear in public with arms exposed lest their bare arms arouse the men of the group and turn them into lustful beasts, this says a whole lot about the inability of your men to control their impulses, or at least how your ancient laws perceived it at one time, and obviously continues. Or, say, if a modern woman living in the West must wear a wig in public so as to not be alluring to men other than her husband, to me such a rule is representative of the perceived weakness of their menfolk, and it could be argued, the weakness of their own faith.

I thought that religious belief was supposed to give one the strength to resist temptation, but it seems that many religions don't really believe this, at least to the extent that the object of extreme control is to eliminate all temptation, and anything that's seen as making temptation possible. Whether forcing women to wear a burka or denying them access to the HPV vaccine, it's all of a piece to me.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on June 9, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Madeline nails it. (And I say that seriously)

Posted by: Red Right Hand on June 9, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

You know, letting youngwomen keep their clitorises may also encourage them to have pre-marital sex. Why not follow the example of our Somali brethren and give them all a clitoridectomy?

Posted by: Stefan on June 9, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I fail to see the conservatives' logic. If the cervical cancer vaccine encourages pre-marital sex, do seat belts encourage reckless driving and do trigger locks promote accidental shootings?

Decisions about medication are personal ones reached by a patient in consultation with her doctor and perhaps also including advice from family and close friends.

Conservatives have proven over and over again how fallible they are in their public and personal lives. When it comes to personal health need to simply let doctors do their jobs and let patients make up their own minds.

Curing preventable diseases and saving hundreds of thousands of lives is a good thing.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on June 9, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

First of all, you should never allow someone named "Dr Finger" to be in charge of anything to do with girls and sex.

Second, does the fact that Merck might make up to $2 billion from this have anything at all to do with the way it was decided? Hmmm?

Posted by: craigie on June 9, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I fail to see the conservatives' logic. If the cervical cancer vaccine encourages pre-marital sex, do seat belts encourage reckless driving and do trigger locks promote accidental shootings?

I look forward to "abstinence only" driver's ed and gun safety classes....

Posted by: Stefan on June 9, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK
I thought that religious belief was supposed to give one the strength to resist temptation, but it seems that many religions don't really believe this, at least to the extent that the object of extreme control is to eliminate all temptation, and anything that's seen as making temptation possible.

Most Christian religious systems don't even purport to do that universally; sure, they claim that in the ideal limit case they would, but they also acknowledge that real people don't actually ever reach that ideal limit and therefore need to manage their exposure to sources of temptation (or "occasions of sin").

The problem, it seems to me, is when that reasonable understanding of personal responsibility to understand one's own moral weaknesses and be responsible for not unnecessarily subjecting yourself to them gets turned into either making presumptions about others weaknesses, and instituting compulsory controls to prevent them from being tempted, or just instituting compulsory controls to prevent others from preventing a temptation to your weaknesses.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 9, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Religious right vs. the pharmaceutical companies? They never had a chance.

Not so fast. If that were true, the "morning after" pill would be legal.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 9, 2006 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

It's worth pointing out that the fundies' arguments against HPV vaccine would apply equally to any future HIV vaccine. Would they deny an HIV vaccine to people because abstinence would work as well?

Posted by: ProfWombat on June 9, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

big pharma versus the fundies?

no contest

Posted by: marblex on June 9, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Am I missing something?

How is having sex related to cervical cancer?

As I recall, a connection was thought to be found in the 1970's but it turned to be false. The cervical cancer connection was actually with cigarette smoking, and (at least in those days) women who smoked were more likely to have sex.

Posted by: dan on June 9, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

women who smoked were more likely to have sex.

I thought it was the other way around - first you have sex, then you really want a cigarette. Well, that's what I learned in the movies...

Posted by: craigie on June 9, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK
Am I missing something?

How is having sex related to cervical cancer?

Most -- I think the best current understanding is all -- cervical cancer results from a one or another strain of a virus (HPV), the virus this vaccine targets some of the more widespread strains of.

HPV is sexually transmitted (as far as I know, aside from the cancer risk, there aren't a lot, if any, other noticeable symptoms of infection so, aside from showing up on tests specifically for the virus, its pretty much a silent infection.)

As I recall, a connection was thought to be found in the 1970's but it turned to be false. The cervical cancer connection was actually with cigarette smoking, and (at least in those days) women who smoked were more likely to have sex.

Smoking (along with a number of other risk factors) can substantially increase the risk of cervical cancer, but HPV is currently understood to be a necessary condition for the development of the cancer.


Posted by: cmdicely on June 9, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Why not...give them all a clitoridectomy?

Dude, never use that word in front of me.

Posted by: not shortstop, that's for sure on June 9, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: HPV is sexually transmitted (as far as I know, aside from the cancer risk, there aren't a lot, if any, other noticeable symptoms of infection so, aside from showing up on tests specifically for the virus, its pretty much a silent infection.)

HPV also is the cause of genital warts, but you're right, one can certainly have HPV without having these, so it very often is a silent infection.

Posted by: shortstop on June 9, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

It's worth pointing out that the fundies' arguments against HPV vaccine would apply equally to any future HIV vaccine. Would they deny an HIV vaccine to people because abstinence would work as well?

I think we know the answer to that question.

Hell, I'm surprised they don't protest outside any labs working on either of those vaccines, the same way they protest at the funerals of those godless Iraqi war vets who are part of a military that "accepts" homosexuals.

Posted by: cyntax on June 9, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if Dr. Finger has anything to do with it (and unfortunately he does) then we should be worried about what would happen to an HIV vaccine. When asked about a potential HIV vaccine he said, "With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition [a medical term for the absence of fear] would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care."
Yikes.

Posted by: Madeline on June 9, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Cheers all around! Any access to a vaccine that can prevent cancer is worthwhile.

But all the attention on HPV has been misleading and hysterical. The nuts have latched onto this one STD as the end of the world: "Have sex and DIE." That's such an exaggeration! A small number of HPV cases do result in cervical cancer which is why we need the vaccine.

However, HPV is incredibly common among sexually active young people -- statistics I have read say 75% will be infected at some point in their lifetime -- and most of the time the immune system squashes it quickly. The abstinence nuts have been able to turn it into a boogey man because it can cause cancer, plus it can lie dormant for years before showing up on tests and even then there are likely to be no symptoms. But the reality is, it's usually not that scary.

I'm not sure I'm making a lot of sense. The summation: Most people are going to get it and some people could die from it, so the vaccine should be spread far and wide. But I'm also saying don't freak out about getting an STD that is incredibly common and likely to cure itself.

Posted by: snarktini on June 9, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK
A small number of HPV cases do result in cervical cancer which is why we need the vaccine.

Its actually a very large number, though a small percentage; its, globally, the third most common cancer among women. Its fairly rarely diagnosed in the US because routine Pap smears are common, which often can catch it while it is precancerous.

Also, the best availabe evidence is that while not all cases of HPV infection result in cervical cancer, all cases of cervical cancer result from HPV infection, so this vaccine (not yet targetting all strains of HPV, but the most common) could be an important step to completely eliminating cervical cancer. Wiping it out. Utterly, gone from the face of the Earth. No more.

Its a big deal, and anyone who fights against it because it might undermine their efforts to dishonestly frighten people out of having sex rather than actually trying to convince people that the values they wish to impose on society are morally correct can take a flying leap at themselves.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 9, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I wrote about this issue at my place as well as at HuffPo.

Since uterine and cervical cancer took my sister, I take this issue pretty seriously, and despise the Radical Righties who want to block distribution of this vaccine.

Bastards.

Posted by: SteveAudio on June 9, 2006 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that none of the "usual suspects" has pointed out that the right isn't against the vaccine itself but only against making it mandatory.

The right seems to have figured out that there's more than one way to skin the cat...

If the vaccine isn't made mandatory, then no state or federal health system will be obligated (or willing) to pay for it, leaving the "choice" to individuals. Since it's a rather expensive vaccine, that means a lot of people will "choose" not to make it available to their children on grounds other than "morality". Given that we have millions of people who cannot afford private health insurance, thousands of women (including the married, mature ones) will continue to get cervical cancer. Which, in turn, will "prove" that the vaccine isn't working.

So why waste energy fighting the vaccine? Just stir up the "non mandatory" pot, get the states on the bandwaggon (easy, since the states are hurting for health money already), sit tight, and watch the problem disappear.

On the matter of the possible-in-the-future HIV vaccine... I don't know... As long as AIDS was considered to be a strictly "wages of sin" disease, nobody much cared; as soon as "innocent victims" began to surface, the thinking changed. The same thing might happen to the HIV vaccine; we now have as many babies infected in the womb as adult "sinners"

Posted by: libra on June 9, 2006 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend who just underwent her second (emergency) surgery for cervical cancer. She has three small children and a soon-to-be ex-husband who can't "forgive" her for getting cancer.

Anyone who opposes getting this vaccine into the general population and stopping this disease is an evil motherfucker. Period. I don't care if your complaint is sexual morality or big pharma.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 10, 2006 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

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