Reflections From the Front: For Whose Good?
On October 26, the New York Times published a news story, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/health/policy/26vaccine.html?scp=2&sq=hpv%20vaccine&st=cseabout a recent recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that boys and young men should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, HPV, to protect them from anal and throat cancers resulting from sexual activity. It is much less expensive to vaccinate only the boys who will engage in homosexual sex, but since this is hard to predict, the argument goes, we need to vaccinate them all.
Interestingly, the CDC came out with a similar recommendation for girls in 2006, but fewer than half of the girls between 13 to 17 have received even one dose, and less than a third have received all three required for efficacy.
The cost of administering the vaccine per year would be around $140 million, but the initial costs of catching up on the unvaccinated boys might approach $1 billion. The vaccine would combat several but not all strains of HPV; to provide greatest protection, it would ideally be given prior to any sexual activity. Since by age 15 one of five teens are no longer virgins, the aim would be to vaccinate prior to any sexual activity.
An October 29th editorial, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/opinion/the-hpv-vaccine-is-for-their-own-good.html?scp=1&sq=hpv%20vaccine&st=cse, tells us that it is “For Their Own Good”, and strongly encourages that all 11 to 12 year-olds receive the vaccine.
The editorialist cannot help himself. He takes a gratuitous swipe at conservative politicians (identified as Republicans in the first article), and conservatives in general for their reluctance to endorse the vaccine recommendations wholeheartedly. It is always easier to employ ad hominem arguments than it is to seriously address counterarguments to one’s own position. He fails to address:
1) If this is such a great idea, why is the vaccination rate so low among girls, 5 years after the CDC’s endorsement? Are two-thirds of all Americans conservative, religious Luddites?
2) Are there alternative ways to decrease the spread of HPV? What are their risks and benefits?
3) There is no mention of abstention education, which has been proven to reduce sexual activity prior to marriage. http://www.cmda.org/wcm/CMDA/PublicPolicy2/Press_Room1/NewsReleases/2010_News_Releases/Landmark_abstinence_study_.aspx
4) Contrary to the types of statistics generated by Alfred Kinsey, thoroughly debunked but still occasionally quoted as an authority, a true estimate of homosexual behavior in American males is probably between 1-5%. Is it really reasonable to vaccinate 95-99% of American boys for a disease that is very rare in their population?
Simplistic prescriptions for complex ailments are seldom satisfactory.