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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: There is always the risk that you would replace the spreading killer virus by an iatrogenic effect that is equally effective at killing off those who are vaccinated.

    There is no research programme or legislation which mandates trials over a number of lifetimes. So there is no drug on the market which has been fully researched as to the effects over a long period on an individual, never mind on their offspring and subsequent generations. Until pharma companies can provide reassurance based on this sort of solid research, it seems reasonable to give the indiviual the choice of whether to accept the risk.

    Of course, drugs go out of patent and pharma companies drop them in favour or newer and more profitable formulations, so we are never going to have that sort of certainty. In other words, profit is put ahead of the wellbeing of the individual. And given that situation, why should the inidividual be denied choice as to whether they receive an experimental drug?
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      Mar 8 2012: You never can truly know all the side-effects a particular vaccine or medicine will have. However, this is not to say that the FDA doesn't have very rigorous standards before they approve a drug for the marketplace. Sometimes things do fall between the cracks, and adverse reactions that weren't statistically significant in trial studies become significant when administered to the public at large. When this happens, and it is serious enough, the FDA may revoke its approval of the drug.

      One way the US government tracks adverse reactions to vaccines is with Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). http://vaers.hhs.gov/index

      That being said, "more than 35 million doses of HPV vaccine have been distributed in the United States as of June, 2011." As of yet, there does not appear to be any need for concern about ill-effects of the vaccine.

      Source: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-vaccine-young-women.htm

      Another thing to think about: If the rigors of drug approval are too high, then new drugs may NEVER make it to the marketplace. It may not be economically feasible for the companies to conduct the research. In addition, think of all the lives that are currently being saved by being vaccinated that would have died if the Gardasil vaccine was introduced in 100 years when they had more data.
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        Mar 8 2012: It's the incompleteness of knowledge which is the strongest argument for retaining the individual's right to refuse to take a risk.

        And of course, the statement that 'As of yet, there does not appear to be any need for concern about ill-effects of the vaccine' deserves challenge. It is classic research and marketing speak designed to divert attention from the fact that research is incomplete. As the old saying goes, absence of proof is not the same as proof of absence.

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