Here is an opinion piece about the new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in yesterday's NYT. The vaccine, Merck's Gardasil, is fully effective against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. Expected to cost between $300 and $500 for a series of three shots, use of the vaccine is expected to draw fire from the right wing as yet another practice that encourages premarital sex. (Some on the right have so far said only that they oppose mandatory vaccination for school entry, but support widespread availability of the vaccine.)
Here's the rub: the vaccine is more effective when it's given between the ages of 10 to 15 than between the ages of 16 and 23; so to maximize its usefulness, experts are recommending vaccination be completed before a person (male or female) becomes sexually active. . . which means vaccinating children against an STD.
If we can prevent cervical cancer by use of this vaccine, is it ethical to decide not to do so--because of concerns about promoting teenage sex? Will Medicaid pay for the vaccine, or will only those who can afford it be protected from cervical cancer? Stay tuned.
Nancy Berlinger has a piece on the Hastings Center's Bioethics Forum here, and Katha Pollitt has a great (year-old) piece on this issue here.