mad in pursuit journal


Sunday Rant: Cancer Vaccine Immoral

What if someone invented a cancer vaccine... and the government refused to approve it... on moral grounds? If big business and the religious right were pitted against each other, who would win? And have we come to the point where we just assume that We The People will be the losers?

Drug companies aren't enjoying much glory these days, but it turns out that Merck & Company has developed and tested a vaccine against the ugliest strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. Merck has applied to the FDA for a license to sell the vaccine in the U.S.

The glitch: (1) HPV is sexually transmitted. There's a higher rate of cervical cancer among prostitutes than among nuns. (2) To be most effective, the vaccine should be given to girls before they become sexually active.

Uh-oh, the religious right is sniffing a new enemy. Being vaccinated against cervical cancer would encourage promiscuity!!! If the Administration removed information on the safe use of condoms from the Centers on Disease Control web site, they are likely to be equally horrified by the HPV vaccination.

And yet... don't the drug companies get whatever they want? Medicare Part D was stripped of any provisions that wouldn't allow the pharmaceuticals to maximize their profits.

Could this be the clash of the Titans? Big Money against Big Busybodies? You see the rocky road Plan B (the "morning after" pill) is traveling to be sold as an over-the-counter drug. A vaccine put on every state's childhood vaccination schedule should be a much bigger money-maker. But the Abstinence people are obstinate. Word on the street is that they will also protest an AIDS vaccine should that ever come along.

But, like most Americans, all I can do is stand back and scratch my head. We stare in wonder -- so when will the pendulum swing back? -- but what if it doesn't and we are the first witnesses to the end of the Enlightenment and the beginning of the Neo-Dark Ages?


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For the full story: "Political Science" by Michael Specter, The New Yorker 3.13.06