Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reading the Miami Herald can be hazardous to your health

Ana Menendez wrote a bizarre column in Sunday's Herald that I think deserves a little bit of attention. The column is about lobbying in Tallahassee during the current legislative session. She writes:

The legislative session has begun in Tallahassee, and the big question is if the deviants in the state Capitol can keep their minds off the sex life of young women long enough to pass some real laws.
For someone who routinely whines about being called unsavory names Ms. Menendez sure has no problem using them on others. Perhaps Ms. Menendez was molested by state Senator at some point but that's not what I want to explore. It's what she says about a possible measure that would make a new vaccine mandatory for 11-12 year old girls that I want to examine.
First, a couple of Republicans and Democrats said they wanted all 11- and 12-year-old girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus linked to cervical cancer.
The virus she is referring to is Human Papillomavirus (HPV). You may have never heard of HPV because it is generally referred to Genital Warts. Menendez makes her case against the vaccination, which is a new scientific development, as follows:
Everyone knows that the scheme to vaccinate little girls was hatched under the influence of Merck & Co.

Never mind that the spirit behind mandatory vaccination in schools is to prevent the spread of highly contagious childhood diseases like measles, not sexually transmitted ones like human papillomavirus. Nevermind that the most common STD among adolescents is not HPV, but chlamydia, which can be prevented through sex education and the regular use of condoms.

But sex ed and condoms are controversial. Worse, they lack good lobbyists.
A few things to tackle here. First of all she attacks the pharmaceutical company that developed the vaccine. And they are fair game, their lobbying resulted in a similar measure being adopted in Texas. But let's look at the rest of her argument. She acknowledges that vaccinations are a good thing because they prevent the spread of preventable childhood diseases. But what she doesn't mention is that organizations like the American Social Health Association state that "It has been estimated that 75% or more of sexually active Americans will contract HPV sometime in their lives."

75% is a pretty high probability folks and it's probably not an inflated number. Genital warts are very common and often not detectable in men. That's what makes them spread so easily. And here's the thing, HPV has been strongly linked to cervical cancer in women. So back to Menendez. I believe she underestimates the problem of HPV. True, HPV is not a childhood disease but the only way a vaccine works is if you are vaccinated before you are exposed to the virus. In other words the vaccine isn't being dispensed to prevent 11 year old girls from getting HPV it's being dispensed to prevent 16, 18, 30, 35 year old women from getting HPV and possibly cervical cancer. The complications that can arise from Chlamydia should not be underestimated but it is easily treatable with antibiotics once diagnosed. Not so with HPV.

The reason sex ed and condoms in school are controversial is because some parents argue that they sexualize a child at a young age and tacitly encourage sexual activity. It's hard to see a parallel between that and a vaccine, that like I said, is intended to be given specifically before a child is sexually mature.

Ms. Menendez again attacks Merck.
In fact, the sudden mania for the HPV vaccine nationwide is a product of genius lobbying on the part of its maker, Merck, which could make more than $1 billion from the vaccine.
It seems that Ms. Menendez doesn't understand how diseases are treated and cured in the real world. Private companies put their money into innovating these drugs. Many of their attempts fail. And then when they find something that has some promise to it, they must test it for efficacy and side effects. The result is an expensive process that needs to be paid for by sales revenue of existing drugs that previously went through the same process. Of course, this still being America (for the time being) they are also entitled to make a profit when all is said and done. Does Ms. Menendez actually believe that the maker of a vaccine that can prevent a certain form of cancer doesn't deserve to make a profit?

And let me ask this, if instead of HPV (something that few people know about that most people will get in their lifetime) we were talking about HIV (something that everyone knows about but relatively few people will get in their lifetime) would Ms. Menendez be against vaccination? Doubtful. HIV has its lobbyists too.

The rest of the column is more typical Menendez bullshit so I won't get into it.


Claudia4Libertad said...

Hola Henry:

She stinks, for sure. But I do want to point out that HPV frequently manifests itself in the form of an irregular pap test and not just in genital warts two different strains of the virus.) From what I understand, the genital warts variety is not the one likely to cause cancer. A woman (or a man) could have HPV and never know it unless the woman gets an abnormal test result. Left unchecked, it could develop into cervical cancer. And what is even scarier is that the kids don't even have to have sex to transmit it- just contact can do it.
Sadly, a close friend of mine developed cervical cancer last as a result of HPV. I think all girls should get this vaccine, my kids included.


El Gusano said...

interesting how the main objections are freedom related. profit making in a free market system and lobbying, which is after all, part of the special interests all pushing for their interest so that a policy that's for all interests can be achieved.
this opposed to the govt using the people's money to do all the research and decide what's best for the people. i used to live in a place like that and i don't mean jersey.