Saturday, May 20, 2006

HPV vaccine

Via Reuters:
Merck & Co. Inc.'s experimental vaccine to prevent infection from a virus that causes cervical cancer appears to be effective, and studies did not raise major safety concerns, U.S. regulatory staff said in documents released on Wednesday.

The vaccine, Gardasil, was designed to prevent infection with certain types of the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes warts and most cases of cervical cancer -- the second biggest cancer killer in women. Some analysts project annual sales topping $2 billion if it wins approval.
Merck's ad campaign which has educated the public about the link between HPV and cervical cancer seems to have blunted the religious authoritarians' railing against this vaccine. At one time, they opposed it, claiming it would encourage s-e-x, while now
Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, both faith-based conservative policy organizations, recently have spoken in support of HPV vaccines from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline because of their life-saving potential
Why these allegedly pro-life groups would have favored cervical cancer in the first place is left as an exercise for the reader. Senator Tom "Sterilize the poor" Coburn offers a hint: "Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let's not encourage it by vaccinating ten-year-olds so they think they're safe."

The most important lesson here is that people can indeed learn. A concerted effort to improve public understanding made it impractical for anti-science activists to block this vaccine. The ad campaign provided new information to the public and framed the issue of informing others about the relationship between cancer and the virus as an act of love. The follow-up is that providing a means of protecting people against the virus is also an act of love.

I don't see why a similar indirect approach to public awareness of evolution or global climate change couldn't work. And the self-parodying attacks that the oil industry is mounting against Al Gore's new movie suggests that the movie may provide just such an opportunity for shifting public views on climate change.