Political Football:

The Wart Vaccine

In 2011, we learned that politics and public health don’t always campaign on the same ticket.  During one of the countless Republican presidential nominee debates, Governor Rick Perry took some spicy Texas level heat.  In 2007, he had tried to require students to undergo a vaccination that has been shown to prevent cervical cancer.  While this seems a no brainer (Cancer: bad!  Health: good!), the way the vaccine works gives some folks pause.

Up to 80% of cervical cancers are due to the forms of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that can also cause genital warts, an STD.  Dermatologists treat warts in all forms, genital or otherwise, often with freezing treatments (cryotherapy, left) and immune boosting topical creams.  Usually, a lifelong immunity to wart strains eventually occurs, but can take many visits and procedures. A form of preventative medicine, the HPV vaccine can safely insure protection against the four wart virus strains that cause genital lesions, cervical cancer and some forms of throat and anal cancer. The vaccine is administered with three sessions over a 6 month period.

In an effort to insure best prevention, in 2006 the US FDA approved the vaccination for girls (and now boys) as young as 9 years old.  Presumably some parents are concerned that early vaccination might cause teens to participate in risky sexual behavior. In late 2011, a study showed the opposite, that vaccinated girls were less likely to undergo unprotected sex, instead “always” using a condom. 

The concept of vaccinating children for a future STD can be jarring, prompting a hilarious Saturday Night Live parody, The “Lil Poundcake” doll. While girls play with the doll, it occasionally produces a hypodermic needle, vaccinating girls by surprise.
Girls play with the doll...
...and get a sporadic injection.
Thanks, Lil Poundcake!


Candidate Michele Bachmann further muddied the waters by claiming that a parent had told her that her vaccinated “daughter suffered mental retardation as a result.” In the clinical trials, 1 % of recipients had side effects, and 8% of those were serious, but none involved mental problems. Given the excellent safety record of the vaccine, for Bachmann to go public with this comment without checking the facts seems, well, retarded.

Hopefully, now that the field of nominees is thinning, political skirmishes can be separated from health policy.  Safely preventing warts and cervical cancer?  That seems something for which we can all vote.


Runner-up, Political Football:

For yet another year, Congress can’t figure a way to consistently fund the program on which millions of American seniors rely.  If it is substantially cut in 2012, it is unclear how much Botox would be needed to reduce the epidemic frowns and grimaces.


© 1996-2012 Vail Reese M.D.

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