Double Dose: Concerns Over HPV Vaccines; HHS' Latest Contraception/Conscience Proposal; The Future of Personalized Medicine; Spinach With a Side of Radiation; WALL*E, a Lesbian Love Story ...
By Christine Cupaiuolo — August 23, 2008
Flesh-Eating Fish Perform “Pedicures”: See what shows up in my in-box from NPR?
Drug Makers’ Push Leads to Cancer Vaccines’ Rise: “In two years, cervical cancer has gone from obscure killer confined mostly to poor nations to the West’s disease of the moment,” begins this lengthy New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal about concerns over the rapid rollout of vaccines against HPV, which have now been used by tens of millions of girls and young women in the United States and Europe.
Some of the issues raised:
Merck’s vaccine was studied in clinical trials for five years, and Glaxo’s for nearly six and a half, so it is not clear how long the protection will last. Some data from the clinical trials indicate immune molecules may wane after three to five years. If a 12-year-old is vaccinated, will she still be protected in college, when her risk of infection is higher? Or will a booster vaccine be necessary?
Some experts are concerned about possible side effects that become apparent only after a vaccine has been more widely tested over longer periods.
And why the sudden alarm in developed countries about cervical cancer, some experts ask. A major killer in the developing world, particularly Africa, where the vaccines are too expensive for use, cervical cancer is classified as very rare in the West because it is almost always preventable through regular Pap smears, which detect precancerous cells early enough for effective treatment. Indeed, because the vaccines prevent only 70 percent of cervical cancers, Pap smear screening must continue anyway.
“Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politicians, and went directly to the people — it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now,” said Dr. Diane Harper, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School. Dr. Harper was a principal investigator on the clinical trials of both Gardasil and Cervarix, and she spent 2006-7 on sabbatical at the World Health Organization developing plans for cervical cancer vaccine programs around the world.
“Because Merck was so aggressive, it went too fast,” Dr. Harper said. “I would have liked to see it go much slower.”
Plus: In a separate story, Rosenthal refers to two articles published in New England Journal of Medicine that conclude the vaccines are being used without knowing for sure that they are worth the high cost or if they are effective in preventing cervical cancer. Read the articles here and here.
HHS Fails to Deliver on Contraception/Conscience Proposal: “The Department of Health and Human Services today formally released proposed regulations that Secretary Michael Leavitt claims are necessary to protect health care providers and institutions who decline to provide certain medical services because those services offend their ‘consciences,'” writes Emily Douglas at RH Reality Check.
“After intense criticism in the mainstream media and from millions of Americans, HHS has removed an explicit redefinition of contraception as abortion from the regulation. In so doing, the agency may have created a much larger problem.”
Plus: Here’s the official version of the regulation, and Rachel’s previous writings on this topic.
Birth of a Movement: “Last month, a seven-judge appellate panel in Pennsylvania ruled that delivering babies is not the practice of medicine. It’s always comforting when the law catches up to history; midwifery is, after all, the second-oldest profession,” writes Roberta Devers-Scott, a Vermont midwife and psychologist who has written an op-ed about the prosecution of midwives, including her own case.
Health Care is the Issue: Judy Waxman, vice president and director of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, identifies seven questions to ask when looking at health reform proposals to determine whether the proposals help to ensure that all women have access to health care that meets their needs.
The Future of Personalized Medicine: View a webcast of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s series Today’s Topics In Health Disparities, which discusses the potential of race-based medical solutions for improving healthcare and reducing racial/ethnic health disparities. The webcast takes a closer look at efforts to study the interaction between race, genetics and health.
Spinach With a Side of Radiation: “Consumers worried about salad safety may soon be able to buy fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce zapped with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and a few other germs,” reports the AP. “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday will issue a regulation allowing spinach and lettuce sellers to take that extra step, a long-awaited move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.”
A leading food safety expert said irradiation indeed can kill certain bacteria safely — but it doesn’t kill viruses that also increasingly contaminate produce, and it isn’t as effective as tightening steps to prevent contamination starting at the farm.
“It won’t control all hazards on these products,” cautioned Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
She questioned why the FDA hasn’t addressed her agency’s 2006 call to require growers to document such things as how they use manure and ensure the safety of irrigation water. Irrigation is one suspect in this summer’s nationwide salmonella outbreak attributed first to tomatoes and then to Mexican hot peppers.
“We are not opposed to the use of irradiation,” DeWaal said. But, “it’s expensive and it doesn’t really address the problem at the source.”
The Claim: Morning Sickness Means a Girl Is More Likely: “The notion that morning sickness can sometimes indicate that a girl is on the way may be an exception,” to a number of old wives tales about pregnancy that are based more on fantasy than fact, reports The New York Times. “A number of large studies in various countries have examined the claim, and almost all have found it to be true, with caveats. Specifically, studies have found that it applies to women with morning sickness in the first trimester, and with symptoms so severe that it leads to hospitalization, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.”
A True Love Story: “I’m completely smitten with WALL•E, this summer’s Pixar/Disney offering. But the last thing I expected to see in my friendly, heterosexual upper east side Manhattan neighborhood movie theater was a feature length cartoon about a pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other,” writes Kate Bornstein. “WALL•E is nothing short of hot, dyke Sci Fi action romance, some seven hundred years in the future! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that what you saw? No? What movie were you watching?” Hee. via en|Gender.
It is good to see that the mainstream press and medical community are finally asking some hard questions regarding the HPV vaccine rather than merely reading Merck press releases. The issues raised here are essentially the same ones I raised when the vaccine first came out–see http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/contributors/780 and http://www.feministpeacenetwork.org/2007/04/20/the-deadly-profits-of-misogynist-medicine/. Let’s hope this 2nd look by such influential publications leads to the necessary discussion about the appropriate use of healthcare dollars to maximize women’s health.
As for irradiating spinach–this is very scary–radiation causes cancer and is not an appropriate way to safeguard our food supply. What we need to do is look at farming practices and the way we distribute food which are the causes of these outbreaks. Nuking our food is not the answer!