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Changing their tune on HPV?

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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June 8, 2006

The Guttmacher Institute just put out an update re the FDA’a approval of the HPV vaccine.

The update had a link to the article The Public Health Promise and Potential Pitfalls of the World’s First Cervical Cancer Vaccine from the Gutmacher Policy Review. One section of the article caught my attention:

No sooner had Merck publicly announced the results of its long-term clinical trials in October 2005 than conservative activists began suggesting that inoculating young adolescents against HPV would encourage teenage sexual promiscuity. The heads of various “family values” groups publicly declared that they would not vaccinate their own children. Vaccination “sends the wrong message,” asserted Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC). “Our concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence.” This shot across the bow signaled that the cervical cancer vaccine could become the next battlefront in the social conservatives’ crusade to advance an abstinence-only-unless-married agenda, and that leading activists would be working to ensure that it would meet the same regulatory fate as efforts to bring emergency contraception over the counter.

Yet, these same groups now appear to be softening their stance.

More from the article after the jump.

A statement on the FRC website now says that “media reports suggesting that the Family Research Council opposes all development or distribution of such vaccines are false” and that it “welcomes the news that vaccines are in development.” At the same time, the statement warns, “we will seek to ensure that there is full disclosure to the public of what these vaccines can and cannot achieve, their efficacy, and their risks (including side effects) and benefits. We believe that adults must be provided with sufficient information to make an informed, free choice whether to vaccinate either themselves or their children for HPV.”

Whether the new FRC statement heralds a genuine change in posture on the part of social conservatives remains to be seen. A more likely scenario, perhaps, is that leaders of that movement have made a tactical decision not to oppose federal approval of the cervical cancer vaccine outright but, rather, to hold their fire for 50 state battles over whether the vaccine will be mandatory for middle and high school students. The public health ramifications of such a decision could still be significant. Because universal uptake of the vaccine will have the most impact on cervical cancer rates, efforts designed to prevent mandatory vaccination programs in the name of “parental control” may ultimately hinder the eradication of cervical cancer in the United States.


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