I talk Rick Perry, civil liberties, and the genius of Louie CK with Conor Friedersdorf:
A coda on our discussion on Perry's decision to mandate the HPV vaccine, from Amanda Hess:
Thanks to HPV, just about everyone has a sexually transmitted infection these days. About 20 million Americans are currently infected with one or more strains of the virus. Six million more are infected each year. If you have sex, you're more likely than not to get it before you die. Forty percent of women will contract it within just 16 months of their first vaginal intercourse. And the virus' proliferation has complicated Americans' moral judgments concerning sexual activity. The ubiquity of HPV has democratized sexual stigma—the virus infects people of all races, classes, and sexual orientations. If contracting a virus from sex is the norm, it makes it more difficult to dismiss people with STIs as moral degenerates or irresponsible sluts.
At the same time, the proliferation of HPV among young people has stoked longstanding fears over sexually promiscuous youth. There is no cure for HPV, and even the rules of '90s "safe sex" no longer apply—even with condoms, certain strains of HPV can be transmitted through the skin. The virus clears from most bodies within a couple of years without a trace, but in others, it will develop into genital warts or slowly convert cervical cells into cancer. Every year, 12,000 American women develop cervical cancer, and 4,000 women die from it. But strangely, fears over HPV's spread exploded only after Gardasil, a vaccine that can prevent common wart and cancer-causing strains of the virus, hit the market in 2006.
Hess explains that the vaccine doesn't actually prevent all forms of cancer-causing HPV, and that the risk is highest among those who don't have regular access to medical care that can catch the virus earlier.
I genuinely don't understand why some people seem to believe that cervical cancer years later is an effective deterrent from engaging in premarital sex, or an appropriate punishment for violating some people's religious beliefs on the subject. Such people should not be responsible for public health care policy. As I said above, I have little doubt that many of the same people objecting to the HPV vaccine would be saying the same things about an HIV vaccine if one were ever discovered.
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