HPV: a weapon against young women

A little while ago, someone very close to me was diagnosed with 'abnormal cells' in her cervical smear. This is the first stage in the development of cervical cancer. All those that knew were worried; she was understandably terrified. Cervical cancer is a real killer - it comprises 9% of female cancer deaths.

She was lucky. No cancer developed. Over 270,000 people per year are not as fortunate, and it goes on to kill them.

One of the big causes of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus, known as HPV. It's spread by skin-to-skin contact, and since some strains affect the genital regions, it's seen as a sexually transmitted infection. Naturally, this gains it a fog of middle-class handbag-clutching which makes dealing with it approximately a squillion times more difficult, both for caregivers and for patients.

Here's the important bit - nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection. In fact, there's been research into whether there are even any cases of cervical cancer that AREN'T caused by HPV.

All is not lost, Internet. In fact, the outlook is rosy. There's a vaccine for HPV - Gardasil - and, if given early enough, it's one of the most effective in the history of vaccination.

Great, right?

Wrong. The Guardian reports:

Some schools in England have opted out of the HPV vaccination programme because their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage. The jab guards against two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus - 16 and 18 - which cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. It is offered routinely to girls aged 12 to 13.

But an investigation by GP magazine found 24 schools in 83 of England's 152 primary care trust (PCT) areas were opting out of the vaccination programme, many of them on religious grounds.

The magazine found the majority of schools opting out did not tell their local GPs, where the girls could be offered the vaccine.

Just two of the 15 PCTs where schools are denying the vaccination course told GPs of their decision.

Only five of the 15 PCTs said they informed pupils or guardians how to obtain the vaccine elsewhere, the figures show.

The reasons schools gave for not giving the jab included "not in keeping with the school ethos", "pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage" and "the school does not want parents/students to feel pressured by peers or the school setting".

They vaccinate against all the other stuff. MMRs are given as usual. So are BCGs. The only reason that the HPV vaccination is not provided to kids - and no reference to GPs is made - is to protect their 'parents/students' from feeling 'pressured by peers or the school setting'.

I call bullshit, loudly and clearly. HPV, like HIV, is being used as a weapon here. It's a microscopic bogeyman. If the children are not vaccinated, the efficacy of the vaccination is reduced at an older age, and HPV's effectiveness and viability continues to threaten those who engage in sex with multiple partners, outside marriage, or - perish the thought - non-heterosexual sex.

Without this weapon, these schools are left with just the Bible as justification for teaching monogamy and sex within marriage. It's ironic, really, that they're terrified of this, and feel such a huge need to maintain their unseen viral punishment for promiscuity, to keep their followers in line.

I just wonder what will happen when a viable HIV vaccination appears.