Friday, May 13, 2005

Theocrats Scared by Potential HPV Vaccines

Comic legend Bill Hicks used to have a bit where he envisioned rampant lovemaking in the streets on the day HIV was cured. Sadly, many Americans would rather have people keep on dying than bear witness to such a celebration.

You can get a taste of what these theocrats are all about in the Family Research Council's response to progress in developing a vaccine for HPV. HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a very common and very confusing sexually transmitted disease. Since it's not a reportable condition, there are no firm numbers on how many people are infected, but estimates suggest more than 50 percent of sexually active Americans will get HPV at some point in their lives.

There are many different strains of HPV. Some cause genital warts, while others lead to cervical cancer in women. Many people become infected with HPV and never even know it because they don't have symptoms. While some remain infected for life, others clear HPV from the body with no treatment. Condoms provide some protection against HPV, but since it can be spread via skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by the condom, they're not as effective in preventing HPV as they are in preventing other diseases like HIV and gonorrhea.

The theocrats have succeeded in exploiting this confusion to their own political ends. Instead of emphasizing the need for young women to get annual Pap tests to detect cervical cancer early and significantly increase the odds of successful treatment, they simply say HPV gives you cervical cancer and condoms can't stop it. Such willful misrepresentations are a hallmark of many abstinence-only education programs for youth, which are legally barred from mentioning condoms except in terms of failure rates.

So what's their response to news that two potential HPV vaccines had a 90 percent success rate in preventing new infections in clinical trials? Interviewed in New Scientist, the Family Research Council's Bridget Maher says, "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

To put it another way, Bridget's not sure if the health benefits of not having women die from cervical cancer outweigh the political benefits of having HPV remain a possible consequence of premarital sex.

If and when a vaccine does hit the market, you can rest assured there will be plenty of parents who will refuse to get their kids vaccinated against HPV for the very same reason. And don't expect the Bush administration to go out of its way in getting the word out to adults about this vaccine, either. The propagation of HPV hysteria is too useful to their moral crusade to expect them to let go of it just because of a potentially life-saving vaccine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the FRC folks would argue that anyone who would even consider having sex for any reason other than procreation (and then never again!) isn't worth saving.

The pure evil of our so-called moral crusaders continues to astonish me. What times we live in.