Cervical Cancer Vaccine: New Twist

// 30 July 2008

I have just finished reading M.D’s column in the current issue of ‘Private Eye’ (25/7-7/8/08), in which the anonymous doctor poses the following question:

“Why has “new” Labour chosen not to protect girls from genital warts as well as cervical cancer?”

I won’t rehash the entire story here, but ‘Private Eye’ don’t produce the serious stories in full on their website, only the cartoons, so you’ll have to buy it if you wish to read it. Still, the main point is as follows.

There is a vaccine available that not only protects against the virus that causes cervical cancer, but also the one that causes genital warts. It’s provided by a company called Gardasil, and has been widely used for over a year in the US, Canada, Australia, and “Many European countries (see Eye 1181).” However, the U.K government has gone for a cheaper vaccine, Cervarix, which only protects against cervical cancer.

M.D makes a very convincing case for Gardasil by outlining the benefits (for both sexes) of a genital warts vaccine, and by giving some indication of the misery caused by genital warts. Doctors are in favour of Gardasil, according to M.D, and are advising those parents who can afford to pay the £250 (for a 3 course vaccine) to get their children vaccinated with it.

Comments From You

chem_fem // Posted 30 July 2008 at 8:00 pm

Gardasil is the name of the vaccine and Merk the name of the company who developed it.

Doesn’t surprise me they went for the cheaper one.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 30 July 2008 at 11:05 pm

Why didn’t MD pose a more pertinent question wherein he should have asked ‘why didn’t the government demand that boys too be vaccinated against HPV since this virus is predominantly passed via male to female sexual contact.’ Claims that all girls should be vaccinated only ensures that girls’ bodies are used as guinea pigs because unless boys are vaccinated too, this will not reduce HPV. Also, HPV has been around for eons and there are different strains of which not all cause cervical cancer.

The vaccine has not in fact been proven to be safe and effective. There are still serious issues regarding the claims made by Gardasil.

Also, this vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV and it does not in fact protect women against cervical cancer as is claimed by the makers.

There is a website devoted to debunking the claims Gardasil makes with regards to this ‘new wonder vaccine’ but unfortunately I cannot locate it at present. As always beware of claims made by pharmaceutical companies because their primary aim is one of profit at the expense of women’s and girls’ bodies.

rose_hasty // Posted 30 July 2008 at 11:24 pm

Just wondering about the argument against the cervical cancer/warts vaccine. Particularly with the warts vaccine I have this horrible image of girls being primed up for unprotected sex. I was always very resentful as a young woman about the expectation of females taking oral contraception. It feels as though we’re setting women up to be responsible for the bodies of both sexes. I’m sure that my discomfort is based in more than prudishness but I’m still quite confused on the issue! Help! has anyone seen a decent, perhaps feminist, argument regarding the cons for women/girls of such a vaccine.

Dulcinea // Posted 31 July 2008 at 12:27 am

Anything that safely prevents certain cancers and genital warts looks like a good thing for women to me. I worry about uncertainties as to the safety and effectiveness of the drug, but not about girls being somehow ‘primed up’ for exploitative sex by this vaccine. I have heard this fear from several people (including Germaine Greer!), but I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. I don’t think men who want to sexually abuse or exploit young girls now are particularly put off by the chance they may contract genital warts, and I don’t think preventable disease should be used to punish young women who have sex.

It is disturbing that the vaccine is only being given to girls. I’d like to know more about what the official rationale behind that it.

Snuffles // Posted 31 July 2008 at 12:43 am

A random fact – possibly of no interest – here in Australia the Gardasil has been availabe free for women between 15 and 26.

I’ve had 2 of my 3 shots – and I never heard anything about it preventing genital warts. Yay for me if it does, though. It’s marketed as a cervical cancer vaccine.

Shea // Posted 31 July 2008 at 1:34 am

The rationale is twofold- only women get cervical cancer so it makes sense to vaccinate them and secondly by doing so we can ensure cross immunity.

There is a question of why we aren’t vaccinating a certain group of boys who won’t be protected by vaccinating girls- because they are homosexual and still susceptible to cancer of the rectum, which has a transitional cell zone like the cervix.

Gardasil protects against HPV strains 16 + 18 (oncogenic) and 6 + 11 which cause genital warts. Cervarix protects against 16 + 18. Neither vaccine has ever been stated to prevent all types of HPV (and therefore cervical cancer) and so a pap smear will still be needed (and condoms) to protect against cancer caused by other strains. All vaccines can and do cause damage- that it why we have the vaccine compensation board, but you have to remember what we are vaccinating against. Take the risk of falling ill from the vaccine versus getting cervical cancer– it’s your call.

Govt plumped for Cervarix because it is cheaper and they are stupid.

Lauren O // Posted 31 July 2008 at 6:10 am

Like Snuffles, I have never heard anything about Gardasil preventing genital warts. Unlike Snuffles, my Gardasil shots were expensive as hell, because I live in America.

I would like to say, though, that when I was in England, I went to a sexual health clinic, and they’d never even heard of Gardasil. They were going to test me for HPV, and I said, “Oh, I have the vaccine for that.”

Mishearing me, the doctor responded, “Yes, they do have one, but there are a lot of caveats. It only works for people who have never had sex, and – ”

“No, no. I mean I already have the vaccine.”

It was the only thing about British health care that didn’t totally outshine American health care.

Kath // Posted 31 July 2008 at 10:20 am

I agree with Dulcinea. Protection against any communicable disease is a good idea, especially ones that kill. If an HIV vaccine was made available tomorrow there would still be people protesting against giving it to teenagers because it would “encourage” them to have sex. Whatever the intention, the effect of this is to punish young people for having sex, and that’s before even considering that not all sex is consensual! It is also worth pointing out that condoms cannot fully prevent the spread of warts since they are passed on by skin contact with the infected area which could be outside the area covered by a condom. I’m not sure whether this also applies to the strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer.

The Cervarix vaccine is only being given to girls because it is women who get cervical cancer. If enough women are covered by the vaccine it will protect them and also prevent the spread of (that particular stain of) HPV throughout the population. Since apparently it would still be cost effective to vaccinate all girls using the more expensive Gardasil vaccine, I would have preferred the government to have gone for that one.

Kath // Posted 31 July 2008 at 10:23 am

I just wanted to point out that not all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. It’s thought to be a factor in about 70% of them.

Charlotte // Posted 31 July 2008 at 2:49 pm

The HPV vaccination is a massive breakthrough in protecting women from cervical cancer, with the potential of saving around 400 lives a year. The fact that it is free in this country is even better – I’ve seen the adverts for buying immunization in America, it is strange but they do try a lot harder to convince you to go for it. ($$$)

If the girls are immunized before sex they gain full protection preventing infection by HPV and so the cervical cancers caused by the virus. I do not agree that young women are guinea pigs – there are rigorous tests and peer reviews that drugs have to pass before coming into use. We do not yet know if there will need to be some sort of ‘top up’ jab later in life, and pap smears are still recommended highly – if it is not enough we will find out, results will be highly monitored. I can see no negative outcome of the jabs being administered.

I haven’t seen any information regarding the cost effectiveness of either drug, but if the singular immunisation targeting only cervical cancer strain HPV is more cost effective, and it prevents women from contracting a virus responsible for most types of cervical cancer than I find it hard to take up an argument regarding protection against genital warts, although I do understand the place of one.

The biggest problem I see is the take up of the vaccination, with 1 in 5 parents refusing the jab in the trial runs. And as the main point of distribution seems to be through schools there may also be problems with young women outside the mainstream school system, or with students missing one of the three jabs needed for full protection. Sex education is still not up to scratch, something which would help young men and women make better informed choices about protection and infection.

I hate when vaccines aren’t taken up properly (parents against MMR is a constant source of pain for me considering the huge dangers associated with not being immunized properly as a child and the rigorous studies proving no link between it and autism) I quizzed a virologist for a while on HPV, I’d definitely recommend it.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 31 July 2008 at 3:08 pm

Well, d’oh! Cheaper than either would be a widespread, no-nonsence abstinence-only sex education campaign.


Alex T // Posted 31 July 2008 at 4:05 pm

Channel 4 showed a fairly balanced programme about this last week. You should be able to watch it here:


Ghostpaw // Posted 1 August 2008 at 8:58 am

The sad and stupid thing is that when the govt. was looking at introducing at introducing an HPV vaccine, the option of using Gardasil and giving it to children of all genders was discussed, but ultimately like so much of the public health system the bean-counters got the last word and it was deemed ‘not cost effective’. So why are only females being given Cervarix? Because it’s cheap. No patriachal conspiracy here, just accountancy.

Kath // Posted 1 August 2008 at 11:33 am

But Gardasil *was* deemed to be cost effective. If it wasn’t there might be a case for not using it since warts are irritating but not life-threatening. It may be more to do with the govt fearing public perception of going for a more expensive vaccine to guard against a non life-threatening STD. As I said, I think they should have gone for it.

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