Just to review, the FDA approved the vaccine gardasil for females from 9 to 26 years of age in July of last year. That same month a CDC advisory committee voted that girls aged 11 and 12 be vaccinated. Health experts say that immunizing girls before they reach the age of potential sexual activity is the best way to protect them individually, and the community as a whole, because it stops the virus from spreading.
But how widespread is the virus really? Cervical cancer is a disease that kills 4,000 women each year. It’s preventable in the majority of the cases, and the tool is the cervical cancer vaccine called gardisil. It prevents the spread of human papilloma virus, or HPV. There are more than 100 types of HPV, but two--HPV 16 and 18-- are the main causes of cervical cancer. Two others, .HPV 6 and 11, cause genital warts.
Now, a new study shows HPV infection is common in America. One in every four U.S. females between the ages of 14 and 59 have at least one strain of HPV. But, pay attention to the details: only 3.4 percent actually have HPV 16 and 18…that’s around three million females. Another 1.4 percent had HPV 6 or 11, the wart causing strains. That makes a total of 4.5 percent of U.S. females carrying a disease-causing strain, most commonly seen in 20 to 24 year olds, falling as women get older.
Dr. Mary Fatehi, a GYN Oncologist at Long Island College Hospital, says,” As you develop an immune response and develop antibodies to protect against anti infection the older you get with the later sexual contacts that means you have more exposure and you are immune so you don’t have as many active infections and that is why the percentages actually drop over time.”
Still, according to the FDA, over 50 per cent of people who have been sexually active at any time in their lives will have HPV. But is the frequency of the disease causing strains—again, 4.5 percent in U.S. females--enough to warrant the vaccine?
“I do think that being able to limit the pathologic infections the ones that cause 70 to 80 percent of the clinically important diseases that we treat is going to be a tremendous benefit to woman,” says Dr. Fatehi. “All women beginning ages eleven to twelve should be vaccinated with the preventative vaccine.” And insurance companies are even paying for what is quite an expensive vaccine, at 360 dollars a person.
The question is, given the frequency, should it be mandated, as many states are considering? Dr. Fatehi believes, “I think it should be mandated because then it will be readily available to entire population. We still see deaths from cervical cancer so if we can prevent those four to five thousand deaths per year it is worth it.”
A mandated vaccine would mean females eligible for public assistance have the right to have the vaccine at no cost to them. 20 states other than Texas are currently considering legislation to make the vaccine compulsory for girls and women. Some experts say making the vaccine mandatory may cause a backlash and make parents mistrustful about vaccines altogether. By the way, condoms may not protect against HPV.