Nov. 2, 2005 – With a vaccine that could prevent cancer in tens of thousands of women less than a year from the market, religious groups and reproductive-rights advocates are squaring off over how the medication will be distributed. Leading medical organizations are recommending that all girls be vaccinated just before puberty, while a number of religious and other socially conservative groups are concerned the cervical cancer vaccine may increase sexual activity among youth.
Clinical trials for vaccines against the human papilloma virus (HPV), strains of which cause cervical cancer and genital warts in women, show that the medication is nearly 100 percent effective, according to recent company reports and studies published in two leading journals, Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Two separate vaccines are being developed by pharmaceutical giants Merck and GlaxoSmithKline. Cervical cancer afflicts nearly 10,000 women each year, killing 4,000.
Many medical and public-health professionals in the United States and abroad have lauded the companiesâ€™ advances in preventing the spread of HPV. Domestic supporters include the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Most public health experts recommend that the vaccine be given to girls at or prior to puberty to reduce the risk of transmission. Some are even recommending making the vaccine a prerequisite for attending school. But religious and other socially conservative groups oppose such policies, fearing that requiring the vaccinations could inadvertently encourage sexual activity.
In statements published by Focus on the Family, a conservative religious organization heavily involved in politics, Physicians Consortium head Hal Wallace said: "We're going to be sending a message to a lot of kids, I think, that you just take this shot and you can be as sexually promiscuous as you want and it's not going to be a problem, and that's just not true."
According to the Washington Post, abstinence-only-advocates are working together to develop an official policy toward the vaccine. They also have representatives, appointed by the Bush administration, on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a Centers for Disease Control panel that largely determines how vaccines are distributed.
Both Merck and Glaxo say they are in the final stages of developing and testing their respective HPV vaccines.
Monday, WebMD.com reported that Merck intends to file for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of its version, Gardasil, before the end of the year. The FDA could make a decision on the vaccine as early as January.