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Srdjan Kamenko

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When it comes to vaccine intervention for disease control, should personal liberty go before the benefit to society?

This question is extremely important when one considers current news on the Human Papillomavirus vaccine. The main vaccine, Gardasil, has been widely used on women ages 9-26 since its introduction in 2006. The vaccine first made waves in 2007 when Texas governor Rick Perry issued an executive order to mandate the vaccine for all young women in Texas. Even though it was met with much opposition and ultimately failed, the question still remained: should we have a mandatory HPV vaccine for all women? The two sides of the argument clash, each bringing significant evidence to bear on the issue. Mathematical models indicate that with a vaccine as effective as this one (about 100%), mandating the vaccine will stamp out the virus types targeted by the vaccine. HPV is the most common STI with 45% of college age women currently infected. Freeing society of such a dangerous virus, the number one cause of cervical cancer, is a highlight of the pro-mandate argument. The opposition suggests that personal liberty is at stake, and that parents should have the choice to vaccinate their children if they believe the vaccine is worth it for them. What do you think? Is it reasonable to limit personal liberty for the good of the community in the face of a spreading killer virus?

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  • Mar 6 2012: It's a tough call. Basically it comes down to a societal decision. I don't know much about epidemic rates and death rates pertaining to most diseases, so for comparison I looked up Influenza and HPV. About 4,000 women were estimated to have died during 2007 from cervical cancer that may (or may not) have been caused by HPV. In comparison, Influenza rates fluctuate broadly, with a rough average of 25,000 deaths per year, although it varied from about 3,000 to 49,000 deaths from the 1977-2007 flu seasons.
    http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/
    http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/us_flu-related_deaths.htm

    It is contagious through sexual contact only and is not-airborne, so should lowering the death rate then be the main criteria for forced vaccination? I don't know. What about a "vaccine" that prevents addictions? Or leaving vaccines, enforced ingestion of a medical prophylactic that prevents heart attacks (aspirin) or widespread fluoridation of water (dental cavities)? etc. etc.

    The question I have is, where is the bar that delineates societal needs vs. individual.?

    Also, we sometimes tend to find out biologically that there benefits to certain host-vector interactions that may have been missed (not that this is the case in HPV) for example, the initial realization the H.Pylori is the caustive agent behind stomach ulcers and gastric cancer, but may protect against asthma development.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070423185722.htm

    Another question I have pertains to the economics of forced medication and private corporations and corporations in general. It's one thing to have a vaccine produced in a taxpayer funded facility and distributed cheaply to all, but is it prudent to essentially force individuals to purchase goods (in this case a vaccine) from a private entity (Merck)? For example, big pharma has been paying billions in fines due to fraud but there is not much that can be done since they essentially monopolize needed drugs.
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      Mar 7 2012: You may have wandered into the realm of the 'slippery slope' fallacy, but I definitely agree. How the United States government approaches this problem will be historic and will most likely shape further legislation. At what point does the government's attempt at disease control lead to a totalitarian state?

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