Forbes' Gardasil Story Sheds Light on Why Florida's Well-Meaning HPV Legislation Failed | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Forbes' Gardasil Story Sheds Light on Why Florida's Well-Meaning HPV Legislation Failed

Florida lawmakers tackled lots of pressing issues this past legislative sessions. They debated whether the barking tree frog should be the Sunshine State's official amphibian. They clashed over making it a crime to pick up pecans that have fallen from privately owned trees. The even considered making trees painted purple a symbol for no trespassing. 

There were some hits and some misses. Among the more disappointing misses was SB 1116, a proposal that may have helped protect hordes of young women from developing cervical cancer but died in committee. 

The original intent of the bill, as previously discussed on this blog, was to add the human papillomavirus vaccine to Florida's list of recommended vaccines for school-aged children. 

The vaccine protects against certain strains of HPV known to cause the bulk of cervical cancers, as well as some types of throat and anal cancer. 

This proposal upset the anti-vaccine folks, particularly the group KNOW Vaccines -- the Florida arm of the National Vaccine Information Center -- which fired off a letter to Tallahassee riddled with dubious claims about the safety and cost-effectiveness of the vaccine.  

The bill was quickly and severely watered down so that rather than having a doctor recommend the vaccine, schools would hand out a flier about it. Still, KNOW wasn't happy. The group insists that it's not anti-vaccine but rather that it supports informed consent. Yet it opposed two attempts at informing parents of the availability of a vaccine that could help protect their daughters from developing cervical cancer down the line. 

And even this very diluted attempt at promoting public health and protecting against cancer by handing out fliers failed. It's pathetic. 

Well, Forbes' Matthew Herper has published a compelling feature on the political, financial, and public turmoil surrounding Gardasil, Merck's HPV vaccine. It clarifies the inherent political risk in any piece of legislation related to HPV vaccines and makes it clear why politicians are keen on avoiding the issue if they can. 

On the political front, Herper writes:

"If you look at both sides of the political spectrum I'm amazed and appalled by the lack of knowledge that's being put forward as knowledge," says Robert Ruffolo, former head of research at Wyeth. "They're not scientists, they're not physicians, and many politicians will say almost anything during election season." Nothing underscores that point more than what has happened to Gardasil, a vaccine with an exceptional safety record and effectiveness rate that nonetheless reaches a fraction of those who need it, endangering hundreds of thousands of lives in both the developed and developing world.

The article also underscores the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, points often attacked by anti-vaccine groups. Herper notes:

Yet the data indicate Gardasil is actually an exceptional drug, extremely safe and extremely effective. In clinical trials of 30,000 people, potential side effects ranging from fever to death occurred at the same rate whether patients were given a saline solution placebo or Gardasil. Deaths occurred in only 0.1% of people in either group. Since the vaccine was approved, it has been given to at least 10 million people, mostly teenage girls. The FDA and the CDC have received reports of 71 deaths of people who got the vaccine and, on examining them, found no pattern.

The next legislative session is sure to be filled with more hits and misses, wacky attempts at redesigning the no-trespassing sign, and endless squabble. Let's hope there are a few minutes for a science lesson and a chat about cervical cancer. And an elected official willing to address the issue, again. 

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Chris Sweeney

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