Feb. 28, 2007
Over the past few days, both The Washington Times and the Washington Post have run stories on HPV and the new HPV vaccine, Gardasil. The Times articles on the subject may have underplayed the risks from HPV to young women and girls. Today's Post article, on the other hand, seems to overplay it.
The headline ("Millions In U.S. Infected With HPV: Study Finds Virus Strikes a Third of Women by Age 24") is about the large number of women who are infected with HPV--which would seem calculated to build support for making the vaccine mandatory. But those figures refer to at least 27 strains of genital HPV. Only in paragraph four do you learn that "only 2.2% of women were carrying one of the two virus strains most likely to lead to cervical cancer"--in other words, the two cancer-related strains targeted by the vaccine.
To put this another way--vaccinating the entire population with Gardasil would not eliminate a virus that infects one quarter to one third of American women, as the headline might lead you to believe. Instead, it would only eliminate the strains that infect 2.2% of women.
Now, that 2.2% will account for 70% of cervical cancer cases, so the vaccine's impact is very significant in relation to that disease. But the vaccine will not help the millions of other women infected with other, less deadly strains of HPV. Only abstinence will help them all.