Protection against cancer, but only if you’re good

October 27, 2011 in General

Last month, I took rent-a-quote moralist Bob McCoskrie to task for campaigning against Gardasil vaccination for girls, a vaccine which can prevent cervical cancer in later life.  Bob’s beef was that the virus which Gardasil protects against – HPV – is a virus which is (hitch up your skirts, people) sexually transmitted.

And we mustn’t encourage girls to have sex, even if it means giving them cancer later in life.

Fortunately, this nonsense wasn’t listened to and Gardasil is available and funded in New Zealand for young girls, primarily for 12-year-olds but there is also a catch-up programme being implemented by some district health boards for girls aged up to 19.

At the time this funding was approved, some advocates for gay men’s health were asking, what about the boys?  HPV can also lead to anal cancer, and while anal cancer is rare, gay men are a much higher risk group for this.

The more hard-nosed may say, well, the health system has limited resources and this is a user-pays scenario.  You can, if you wish, fork out $128 (at least) and get yourself a series of Gardasil shots, in the same way that you can shell out for the Twinrix vaccine which protects against Hepatitis A and B (also a health concern for gay men).

Here’s the problem: HPV is such a readily transmissible virus, that vaccination is only really effective if you get it before picking up one of the various HPV strains.  That means being vaccinated against it prior to becoming sexually active.

As a 34-year-old man, there’s likely to be no point in me being vaccinated, because it’s likely by now that I have it already.

And you needn’t be putting yourself about a lot to have it: according to the New York Times, up to 80 per cent of the population will have contracted one of the six strains, for which Gardasil provides protection against four of.

But if you think there was a moral circus about the idea of young girls being vaccinated for HPV, can you imagine the outrage at young boys being vaccinated?  Possible future homosexuals?  Surely, vaccinating these boys will encourage them to become shirtlifters!

In the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control is now recommending that boys be vaccinated, after recommending vaccination for girls in 2006.  But as the New York Times notes:

“The vaccine has been controversial because the disease it prevents results from sexual activity, and that controversy is likely to intensify with the committee’s latest recommendation since many of the cancers in men result from homosexual sex. The HPV vaccine became a source of contention among Republican presidential candidates after some candidates criticized Gov. Rick Perry of Texas for trying to require that girls in his state be vaccinated. Representative Michele Bachmann falsely suggested that the vaccine causes mental retardation.”

Yes, we’re not only up against religious ideology, but Big Pharma vaccine conspiracy – the latter of which can already be blamed for the recent outbreaks of measles up and down the country.

It’s astounding that in the face of preventing a terminal illness that some people will still cling to their Bibles.  This quote sums it up for me:

“This is cancer, for Pete’s sake,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and a nonvoting member of the committee. “A vaccine against cancer was the dream of our youth.”

A dream that we’re being prevented from making reality, and one that gay political advocates should take note of.  While legislative inequalities are important – and there are very few left to tidy up now – I haven’t seen this one even make the radar.

Being able to “marry” (rather than civil unionise) and adopt children is great, but if you’re dying from cancer that could have been prevented by a vaccine when you were a tweenager, the victory is kinda hollow.