HPV: how does a vaccine become a political controversy?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sneaky danger. According to data by the NIH, 1 in 4 Americans are infected: many do not show any symptoms, so they may obliviously infect others. There are 120 different types of HPV: they spread via sexual contact, and many cause cancer: it’s estimated that HPV is responsible for 99.7% of cervical cancers, and most cases of throat cancer in men. It really looks like an epidemic. So why there is no unanimity in making vaccination against human papillomavirus mandatory?

Human Papillomavirus - Image by visual-science.com
Human Papillomavirus – Image by visual-science.com

The FDA approved 2 vaccines in 2006: Gardasil (that acts against 4 types of HPV) and Cervarix (against 2 types). To be immune, one should receive three doses of the vaccine before sexual maturity (or before any possibility to contract the virus). The vaccination campaign was therefore aimed at girls of 9 years of age and up, but 2012 data from the CDC show that only half of American girls had access to a dose of the drug. Moreover, only 34% received all 3 doses, assuring effective immunization. And this could be possible because a public health issue became a political controversy.

In 2011, the proposal for a mandatory vaccination against HPV in Texas ignited a debate between Republicans and Democrats. According to the former, the HPV vaccines promoted sexual promiscuity among underage teens; to the latter, there were doubts on the safety of the vaccine Gardasil, because of incomplete data provided by the pharmaceutical Merck.

Even in Europe, where the debate over these vaccines was not politically polarized, some confilcts emerged due to the sexual connotation of the problem. A report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states that the vaccination rate is still lower than expected, even though there is scientific proof that the arguments against HPV vaccine are misguided.


Anna Violato


4 pensieri su “HPV: how does a vaccine become a political controversy?

  1. I think the problem is the difficult approach that US schools and parents have with sexual behaviours in early adolescence. Sexual education and communication of risks related to sexual activities are not effective in USA like they are in Europe. The HPV vaccine should be done when boys and girls are 12-14: this makes parents in the weird situation of thinking and talking about their children sexual life before (they think) it’s necessary. Many parents looks at HPV vaccine like something for risk adolescents and not for their little and innocent daughters and sons.

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  2. In my opinion, there is a key factor that is responsible for the HPV vaccine campaign failure In the US. For many people the issue was the big, bad drug companies. Merck had a bad reputation as it was just recovering from scandal of Vioxx, the anti-inflammatory drug taken off from the market after causing thousands of heart attacks. Furthermore, the company began lobbying the state governments to make Gardasil vaccine mandatory. These were good reasons for many people to consider the Big Pharma unreliable and the Gardasil vaccine unsafe.

    (by Elisa)

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