Friday, May 16, 2008

HPV Linked to Oral Cancer in Men

When the FDA approved the new vaccine against HPV (human papilloma virus) to protect women from cervical cancer, there was an outcry among conservatives that vaccinating adolescent girls against a sexually transmitted disease would lead to promiscuity. Surprisingly, Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas, led the nation in trying to make this vaccine mandatory for 11-12 year old girls; not so surprisingly, he was shouted down by the religious right.

In the last few months, the debate around the HPV vaccine for girls has been a window to more deeply ingrained and particularly nasty sexism: the core of the ultra-right's argument is that if women are sexually active out of wedlock, they deserve to get cancer. You better protect your virginity girls, cuz if you have sex you'll die!

New evidence is coming to light that a large percentage of oral cancers in men is also caused by HPV. If the HPV vaccine were approved for men first, we wouldn't have even had a debate. It will be interesting to see how the debate changes now that men's lives are involved.

On a broader note, this debate touches on so many other social issues:

  • Why wasn't the HPV vaccine initially approved for both men and women? These women are not getting infected on their own.
  • HPV transmission among women follows a similar pattern as HIV among women, where married women are being infected by their husbands who picked up the virus somewhere else.
  • Vaccine use in general is on the decline due to allegations that they are unsafe.
  • In the world of medicine, women are still second class citizens; in the world of politics, women's health is barely even a blip on the radar (unless we're talking about serious obstacles, like the right to choose or access to birth control)


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Matt Parker said...

I'm going to go ahead and guess that the religious fundamentalists will find some other equally idiotic reason to oppose a vaccine that saves lives.