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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Guard Against Gardasil
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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Rare is the individual who has not heard of the AIDS epidemic. News stories provide gruesome statistics and frightening images of the deteriorating effects this disease has on millions. While many lobby for increased funding for AIDS research, the truth remains that abstinence prior to marriage and monogamy in marriage would do more to control this epidemic than birth control devices and medications ever could accomplish. God provided a failsafe plan from the beginning of creation—one man and one woman for life. One of the main reasons our society is forced to spend so much time and energy on this malady is because we have abandoned God’s plan for sexual relations within the confines of marriage. AIDS, however, does not hold the dubious honor of being the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease. That honor goes to human papillomavirus (HPV), occurring at some point in up to 75% of sexually active women (McIntosh, 2003). The Centers for Disease Control noted that “genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted” (see “Genital HPV...,” 2004).

Unlike AIDS, which commonly causes death through an impaired immune system, HPV poses a different danger. The virus often goes undetected for many years and can cause irregularities in cervical cells, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer in women. While most HPV infections do not lead to cancer, the National Institutes for Health warned: “There are high-risk and low-risk types of HPV. High-risk HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results, and could lead to cancers” (“Human Papillomavirus...,” 2004). Given the fact that cervical cancer is the second cancer killer of women in the United States, killing 4,000 women per year (Pinto, 2006), it only makes sense to work hard to limit the devastating effects of this sexually transmitted disease. The obvious place to begin preventative treatment is to identify its source of transmission.

In defining the causative factors for this STD, the United States Food and Drug Administration answered the question: What makes a person more likely to get HPV? Their answer is:

“Most people who have sex may get HPV. You are more likely to get HPV if you have:

  • sex at an early age,
  • many sex partners, or
  • a sex partner who has had many partners” (see “HPV...,” 2006).

The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that sexual activity with multiple partners is an essential part of the lifecycle of this virus. In defining an effective method to combat this disease, the FDA Web site observed:

  • You can choose not to have sex (abstinence).
  • If you have sex, you can limit the number of partners you have.
  • Choose a partner who has had no or few sex partners. The fewer partners your partner has had—the less likely he or she is to have HPV” (“HPV...,” 2006).

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta shared similar advice:

How can people reduce their risk for genital HPV infection? The surest way to eliminate risk for genital HPV infection is to refrain from any genital contact with another individual. For those who choose to be sexually active, a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the strategy most likely to prevent future genital HPV infections. However, it is difficult to determine whether a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected (“Genital HPV...,” 2004).

Similar to AIDS, the best offense against this sexually transmitted disease is a strong defense against premarital sex and sexual activity outside of marriage. Sadly, however, society has abandoned the message of abstinence, even as Merck Pharmaceutical Corporation recently made medical history. On June 8, 2006, the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration that prescribed abstinence as the number one way of preventing HPV infections, unanimously approved the vaccine Gardasil—a new vaccine for HPV ("Gardasil Press...,” 2006). However, doctors are now advocating this new vaccine be administered to all young girls from ages 9-14! Claudia Pinto observed:

A new vaccine that blocks a sexually transmitted virus that causes most cervical cancers and genital warts will be in doctors’ offices around the country in a few weeks, prompting excitement from women’s health advocates and concern from some religious leaders.

Gardasil is controversial because it has been recommended that girls become immunized—as early as age 9—before they have sex and put themselves at risk of infection. Some religious leaders are concerned that the vaccine could send a confusing message to girls that premarital sex and sexual promiscuity are acceptable (Pinto, 2006, emp. added).

Could send a confusing message? What message are we sending to our elementary students when we inoculate them for a sexually transmitted disease in the third grade? The “experts” maintain: “To reach maximum effectiveness, the drug should be administered at a young age—ideally between 9 and 14—to assure protection prior to sexual activity and to take advantage of the robust immune response among preteen girls” (Whelan, 2006). Has our country reached a point that we are admitting (or worried about) nine-year-olds contracting sexually transmitted diseases? If so, then let this be a pathetic failing report card of how we are doing as parents in raising our children.

The vaccine, which will probably go a long way in preventing many cases of cervical cancer, is not inherently wrong. The revolting part of this entire equation is that soon many school districts may make this immunization mandatory in order for students to attend school! John Simons noted that “Merck is appealing to states to make the vaccine mandatory for all children who attend public schools. A mandate from the states, which control vaccination policies, would make Gardasil a guaranteed blockbuster” (Simons, 2006). Blockbuster indeed—as Merck has the potential to make $4 billion dollars on this drug (Simons, emp. added). Is there not a conflict of interest involved here which lawmakers should examine?

If the handwriting on the wall is any indication, then it appears as if Merck will get its wish. Todd Zwillich commented:

A government panel today recommended that girls as young as 11 routinely get a new vaccine against cervical cancer. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the government on vaccine policies, unanimously backed widespread use of the vaccine in preadolescent girls in hopes of protecting them before most become sexually active (Zwillich, 2006, emp. added).

He continued: “If the panel’s recommendation is approved by the Bush administration, Gardasil would join vaccines against measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and other diseases on the list of routine shots for all American children” (Zwillich, 2006). This means even Christian children who are brought up knowing that sexual activity before marriage is a sin would still be forced to be vaccinated against this STD. Otherwise they could not attend school.

Clearly, this is the marketing of evil to our nation. Diseases such as whooping cough, chicken pox, and measles can be passed through casual contact. HPV is passed through sexual contact (with the only exception being when an infected mother passes it to a child at birth). Thankfully, not everyone in the medical profession views mandatory HPV immunization as a good thing. Barbara Loe Fisher, President and co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center, questions the need for a mandatory HPV vaccine in the United States, noting that with annual Pap smears the probability of cervical cancer is greatly reduced. Fisher is strongly opposed to Merck’s proposals to inoculate girls at age nine, which is six years before the average age of first sexual experience in the United States. She noted: “It’s just profit-making on the backs of 9-year-old girls” (Simons, 2006).

In defense of the vaccine, Dr. Denio Khabele, Meharry Medical College’s director of gynecologic oncology, observed: “We have to separate out moral issues and look at the public health standpoint. You could have one sexual encounter and be exposed to this virus” (Pinto, 2006). Separate out the moral issues? I would love to hear how to “separate out the moral issues” to a nine year old who is questioning why she needs such a vaccine. The laws and commands of God cannot and should not be “separated” for any reason. We have forgotten that He gave us laws and commands for our own good! Dr. Khabele failed to consider there would be little need for this vaccine if we taught biblical principles of sex.

Mark Huffman, vice-president of education and training for Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, also supports the use of the vaccine. He remarked, “It’s like saying, withhold seatbelts so people don’t drive recklessly. It just doesn’t work like that” (Pinto, 2006). Someone should remind Mr. Huffman that the way to prevent reckless driving is not through seatbelts, but rather by proper education, encouraging drivers to obey traffic laws, and punishment for violations. His argument is comparing apples and oranges. These “reckless drivers” (STDs) are totally preventable without seatbelts (vaccines).

While we recognize the importance of preventing cervical cancer, we are still left wondering: Why not teach everyone what the Bible teaches regarding sexual activity within the confines of marriage? If our society would embrace these godly principles, this vaccine would not be needed. We also realize that someone might marry an individual who has made poor choices in the past, and who would therefore be a possible carrier for STDs. But our recommendation is that if someone decides to marry an individual in this condition, then consideration could be given for use of the vaccine. Why must we subject nine-year-olds to a vaccine for sexually transmitted diseases? As stated previously, cervical cancer kills 4,000 women per year. With yearly Pap smears the odds of cervical cancer are reduced dramatically. Out of a population of 600 million, 4,000 is a tiny fraction. We lose more people to careless accidents—and yet we are trying to justify mandating this vaccine to all young school children.

The same organization that approved this vaccine admitted: “HPV (human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted virus. It is passed on through genital contact (such as vaginal and anal sex)” (“HPV...,” 2006). Too bad this governmental agency did not use logic or common sense when they reviewed this particular drug. We could have sent a much stronger message to our young people—and kept $4 billion in the pockets of families by simply asking them to adhere to a moral standard such as we read in the Bible.

REFERENCES

“Genital HPV Infection—CDC Fact Sheet” (2004), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [On-line], URL: http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm.

McIntosh, Noel (2003), “Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer,” Reproductive Health Online, [On-line], URL: http://www.reproline.jhu.edu/english/3cc/ 3refman/cxca_hpv1.htm.

“Gardasil Press Release” (2006), Merck, [On-line], URL: http://www.merck.com/newsroom/ press_releases/research_and_development /2005_1006.html.

“Human Papillomavirus and Genital Warts” (2004), NIAID, [On-line], URL: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/stdhpv.htm.

Pinto, Claudia (2006), “Shots for Girls Stir Early-Sex Concerns,” [On-line], URL, http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/ 20060615/NEWS07/606150395.

Simons, John (2006), “Merck’s $4 Billion PR Problem,” CNNMoney, [On-line], URL: http://money.cnn.com/2006/06/02/news/companies/ pluggedin_fortune/index.htm.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)” (2006), U.S. FDA, [On-line], URL: http://www.fda.gov/womens/getthefacts/hpv.html.

Whelan, Elizabeth (2006), “Cancer Triumph and Travail,” American Council on Science and Health, [On-line], URL: http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.1352/healthissue_detail.asp.

Zwillich, Todd (2006), “Panel: HPV Vaccine for Young Girls,” WebMD, [On-line], URL: http://www.webmd.com/content/article/124/115641.htm.



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