In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new cervical cancer vaccine that blocks two forms of the human papilloma virus. The virus, commonly known as HPV, is the cause for about 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health recommended that the vaccine not be made mandatory for girls in the state school system. The decision, however, was not made because of public controversy regarding whether the vaccine encourages promiscuity, as HPV is transmitted sexually.
Though clinical trials showed the treatment to be almost 100 percent effective in preventing common HPV strains, the Department of Health was still concerned about the safety, availability and cost of making the vaccine compulsory.
After a six month review by the Department of Health, the initial research maintains that the vaccine is safe and effective for at least five years. The long-term benefits, however, still need more examination.
As the lasting effect of the vaccine is in question more than its safety, the hesitation by the Department of Health to mandate an HPV vaccination indicates a concern of availability and cost – and also of awareness of the virus and vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 million people (men also carry and spread the virus) are currently infected with HPV. At least 50 percent of men and women that are sexually active will have an HPV infection in their lifetime. And by age 50, at least 80 percent of women will be infected with HPV.
In 2004, an estimated 10,520 American women developed cervical cancer – about a third of that number died. A vaccination to prevent even some of these deaths must one day be made mandatory. The HPV vaccine will be reviewed again by the Department of Health in three years.
Some states have already made the drug available for free to low-income women or required insurance companies to cover the vaccination. The cost of the vaccine is about $100 for each of three shots. Ultimately, for a mandate to be realistic, the cost of the vaccine must dramatically decrease, and Minnesota should examine ways to further that goal.