More vaccine bashing

21 August 2008

Today the New York Times is complaining about two vaccines against human papillomaviruses, Gardasil from Merck and Cevarix from GlaxoSmithKline. These vaccines were introduced two years ago to prevent infections that are associated with cervical cancer. 

The article complains that ‘cervical cancer has gone from obscure killer confined mostly to poor nations to the West’s disease of the moment’. They claim that the vaccines have been unnecessarily pushed on the public. Cervical cancer, the argument goes, is mainly a third-world disease that can largely be prevented by Pap smears. In the US, there are 12,000 cases of cervical cancer each year, of which 3,600 are fatal. 

The Times recruited several researchers to complain about the vaccines. One says that it was not sufficiently tested, and that it is not known if immunity is enduring.

The premise of the article is absurd. The vaccine was tested over five years and deemed to be safe and effective. Few vaccines are tested for longer periods; knowledge of their efficacy comes only after extensive use. If the vaccines can prevent 3,600 deaths a year, they are useful. Preventing circulation of the any human viral pathogen in the human population is a good thing.

I cannot understand the purpose of this article. It will only fuel the growing parental dissatisfaction with vaccines, and lead to lower and lower immunization rates in general. This is an excellent vaccine with beneficial effects. It does not deserve such negative focus.