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Paying for Cancelling Cancer?

the potential and the fear of halting most cervical cancer —
and the cost of “forcing” it down young girl’s throats

My mother, around twelve years ago, had breast cancer. The three daughters went to visit her at my mom and dad’s home in Florida, to cheer her up after she got this news. But that was when she told me that she had cervical cancer too, and that she was going in for treatment days later.
Well, after surgery and a radical hysterectomy, she was free and clear of cancer; she went to the doctor for regular check-ups and was given a clean bill of health, even ten years after those cancers attacked her.
So since I am like my mother, I started with mammograms earlier in life than what’s usually required for women, and I have had PAP smears and gynecology examinations annually since I was twenty. I try to exercise, I don’t eat meat (where I have heard that sometimes a lot of red meat in the diet may not be good for someone trying to avoid cancer), I am married to one man that I love and am devoted to (you know, just wanted to make it clear to you that I’m not sleeping around), and... And I don’t know what other things I should do to try to steep clear of getting breast cancer or cervical cancer. This is really a big deal for me, and I’m trying to do everything well, to keep myself out of danger.
And then I heard that Merck has developed “Gardasil,” a vaccine — and actual vaccine — that protects women against the papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer.
Wow, I know that women can have the papilloma virus inside of them and not get cervical cancer, but if something could ensure that the papilloma virus won’t be able to exist inside of you, that’s a wonderful sign. So I think, I should get this the next time I got for a gynecology exam, because although I have no other partners, I may have it, and hopefully getting the vaccine could kill the papilloma virus in me and prevent me from getting cervical cancer. So I look into the drug more. They say that there can be side effects, mostly dizziness and fainting. Then I saw that three shots have to be given three times for it to be effective, and that there’s a good price tag for this vaccine, I read that it costs $360 for the three doses.
Okay fine, I’ll have my husband give me a ride for the shots, and if my insurance doesn’t cover it, I’d pay $360 to know I wouldn’t have cervical cancer. It’s expensive, but having cervical cancer is much more costly.
Okay, okay, then I heard reports that this isn’t the only way a woman can get cervical cancer, but this is one of the major ways, so although this might not be a 100% preventive thing, it still seems like a good idea.
Then I read in an AP article in the Naples Daily News (02/21/07) that Gardasil is “approved for use in females age 9 to 26.” For my own personal interests, what I’d really like to know is if Gardasil can destroy the papilloma virus if it is already in a woman’s body. If it can, then it shouldn’t have approval only up to the age of 26, but it should be usable at any age. If it can’t (and is only good for stopping the papilloma virus from being introduced into the body), then it should say so somewhere. So far, I’ve heard nothing to answer this question.
I guess it’s time for me to go do some research, but after looking online for information, it became evident that this vaccine is designed to stop the infection of a woman with the papilloma virus. However, it may be usable even for women who have been sexually active, because it can still prevent infection from the virus later in life. Oh well, I still think I’ll have to talk to my doctor about this, and see if this actually is a viable option for people who have been facing this potential threat for more than “9 to 26” years...

•••

So then I heard news reports on the radio and television, and read newspaper articles that say the time women should be given this vaccine is in their adolescent years, because the notion is that it should be administered to a woman before she has any sexual interaction (and could contract the virus). Men can harbor the papilloma virus with no ill effects, so it can easily be passed on to women. So reports started springing up that young girls should be given Gardasil, the first and only vaccine (that some complain hasn’t been tested enough). Then a mandate for needing it in schools surfaced.
A big stink arose from Gardasil: Merck was funding (through a third party) efforts to try to have this vaccine be mandatory in schools.
Wow. For those with a political bent (and you know there’s always a slew of those), this is a flag-raising issue.
Religious parents don’t want to lose control over their children (I don’t know, because they never want their daughter to marry, because eventually having sex with only her husband could be all a woman needs to contract the papilloma virus), and many parents think this would lead to encouraging premarital sex (although I don’t think Gardasil prevents pregnancies, or AIDS, or Herpes, or any other STDs... isn’t it funny how high schoolers don’t think about things like that...). Trying to think about this personally, I don’t know, but from what I can gather from my mother’s youth, I don’t think she was the type to sleep around much before she married my father, so I don’t know if getting cervical cancer from the papilloma virus is something you have to worry about even if you only have sex with a few men — or even with only one. The additional concern is that in the past, vaccines were mandated for casual-contact spreadable diseases, and this vaccine is not transmitted from only casual contact (oh my God, if having sex was only casual contact, then I don’t know what being intimate means...).

•••

But I even read on the front page of the Naples Daily News (02/23/07) that people might start coming around to the idea that this vaccine doesn’t encourage women to have sex, because this is a vaccine with the ultimate goal of preventing the most common form of cervical cancer in women. And even though people question making it mandatory for girls in school, others claim that it’s a good plan for women who can’t afford the vaccine otherwise.
Granted, that means the state foots the bill for a lot of girls to get this vaccine, but that becomes a state battle over the amount of money it wants to spend on school-age girls (and how much of an increase in taxes people are willing to spend to allow for this). That’s a story I haven’t heard discussed much about this battle — if anything like this is passed (and they’re working on passing it in a few states), who is footing the bill? I know it sounds like I’m being the obnoxious republican in this one, but like being angry in a community when you don’t have children that you have to pay more to help build a school in your town, a lot of people are going to be paying (in part) for young girls to get this vaccine.
Now trust me, although I’m all of trying to get cancer out of people’s lives (after losing my mother to a form of cancer and fearing the same fate for myself, I want to know that people can truly be protected from at least some forms for cancer), the question becomes this: is it our place to pay money for women (girls when they’re vaccinated) to be vaccinated against diseases that are only spreadable by intimate contact? I mean, over the course of the United States’ history we’ve had vaccinations for casual-contact spreadable diseases, and now people don’t think twice about polio or small pox or the measles or... well, you get the idea. The U.S. Government has stepped in to try to protect people from serious casual-contact spreadable diseases. But cervical cancer from the papilloma virus is not casual-contact spreadable disease, and the augment is that... what, that women will never have sex in their lives? (Sorry, but for some women their goal is to be a mother, and you have to have sex with someone for that...)
So the question becomes not only a government-overstepping-its-boundaries issue for this vaccine, but also how much do we want our government to spend for what is already a hot-button issue. Because what the government spends, we spend. And the more we keep asking of our government, the more we keep paying for in part, and the more we force the rest of the country to help pay for as well. Also consider the Gardasil is the first (and right now the only) vaccine to protect against the papilloma virus, which may account for it’s steep price. The bandwagon has started rolling with this one company’s product, and everyone is hopping on, hoping to keep it moving (thanks in part, as I mentioned before to Merck’s third-party efforts to make this vaccine instantly mandatory for all young women). Although this one product has gone through testing, we don’t know for certain if it has gone though enough testing for the scale Merck wants it to be used on, and we don’t know if there are any other companies (or methods) to lower the cost of this vaccine for people. While jumping on this bandwagon, we might be going overboard and blindly throwing our money at the first potential solution to this problem.




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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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