Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a leading cause of cervical cancer, and can also cause other types of woman-only cancers (vulvar, vaginal), a male-only cancer (penile), and several non-gender specific cancers (anus, oropharyngeal [mouth and throat]). Rates of cervical cancer have fallen dramatically in NZ in recent years, due to the screening programme, 180 women a year are diagnosed with the disease and around 60 die of it annually.
HPV is present in up to two thirds of women, three years after they become sexually active, regardless of the number of sexual partners they have had. It is quite simply rife in the general population, men and women. While condom use can reduce the likelihood of transmission it cannot completely protect anyone, as it can also be caught through other forms of sexual contact than straight forward genital-genital.
It's important to remember that this is not just about the 60 who don't make it each year, this is also about those who survive, and the invasive medical procedures they have to undergo. Further, cervical cancer rates are expected to increase fourfold worldwide by 2020. Treatment for cancer is not pleasant, and not cheap, and if we could diminish the need for treatment, by preventing cancers from developing in the first place, then surely that is a good thing? Here we have an opportunity to make a big difference to a large number of people - not just the women who will not develop cervical cancer as a result of the vaccine, but also their families. And if we are spending less on treating cervical cancer then that frees up more of the health budget for other matters.
Yet some are opposing the vaccine on the grounds that HPV infections could be eliminated if we stopped the "liberal promotion of promiscuity as a valid lifestyle" (as I saw one particularly vile blogger put it.) Family First is also of this view, absurdly comparing vaccinating a 12 year old girl against an infection that could kill her with giving her a condom "just in case". Hmm, the Catholics don't seem to see any link between the vaccine and promoting loose sexual morals, and aren't they supposed to be the Christians who are most uptight about these matters?
Others are agin any immunisation at all, which always seems to me to be a viewpoint they are able to take only because most of us do get jabbed. I don't think immunisations should be compulsory and I respect their right to choose, for themselves and their children. But in general I will be getting Wriggly poked with any vaccine I am satisfied is safe.
A few are opposing the vaccine because there is no plan to vaccinate men for prostate cancer. Sadly there is no vaccine for prostate cancer. If there was I would definitely be thumping the table to get it rolled out (even if it was based on preventing an infection spread by sexual contact!).
Ultimately I think a lot of the opposition to HPV is because it is going to be given to pre-teen girls and many people don't want to face the fact that their daughters are going to be sexually active one day. Vaccines are given to children because their immune systems are in the best condition to respond in a manner than confers immunity for the longest possible period. In the case of HPV it needs to be given prior to the beginning of sexual activity, even non-penetrative touching and petting. How would you feel if your daughter developed cervical cancer later in life because you couldn't deal with the fact she was going to have sex one day?