Politics aside, we have a chance to prevent a deadly cancer

July 1, 2006

About two hours after a colleague and I lamented over breakfast about Americans' shortcomings in wellness, I heard the news that the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) had received the final nod from FDA. Now there was something Americans were actually doing pretty well: immunizing.

About two hours after a colleague and I lamented over breakfast about Americans' shortcomings in wellness, I heard the news that the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) had received the final nod from FDA. Now there was something Americans were actually doing pretty well: immunizing.

We are also a country with a lot of sensitive political topics, however, and the new HPV vaccine has been added to that list. While it's been approved for use, the practical issues of where and when and who pays for it remain up for debate.

The point about the false sense of security is reasonable, but I don't believe it has enough teeth to influence action. We have a chance to greatly reduce a deadly cancer in women. Let's bank on what we will gain. Americans seem to understand that the flu shot doesn't protect them forever against every strain of the flu. I think we can manage to communicate what the HPV vaccine will and will not do. Let's give ourselves some credit.

STILL NO DICE

As if on cue, with all the political dialogue surrounding the HPV vaccine still building, the news hit my desk that a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights against FDA was progressing and that former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford testified that, yes, the decision about approving the Plan B emergency contraceptive drug for over-the-counter distribution to women over the age of 16 should have been wrapped up by now. But it isn't.

Last year, the OTC decision was delayed, and the reason given pointed to a lack of policy to enforce the age restriction and to address the unprecedented situation of a drug being available OTC and by prescription for the same indication simultaneously. Some contend that the reason for the continuing delay has more to do with conservative agenda-pushing than anything.

Currently in certain areas, filling a Plan B prescription is fairly difficult. Pharmacists refuse to dispense it based on moral or religious grounds, and states are trying to hammer out legislation to address that. Many are frustrated about the whole situation.

Thankfully, the HPV vaccine shouldn't evoke quite the same ire that the Plan B OTC decision has. Americans certainly aren't getting enough exercise, but we're on the ball with our vaccines. I think ultimately the vaccine will become common-probably not an absolute requirement for a young girl's school enrollment, but common. And with any luck, cervical cancer will soon become uncommon at best.