Letter to the Public i

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Dear PI,
I was disappointed to see in your March issue an unbalanced and unscientific article
by Ayanna Qadeem attacking the new HPV vaccine. Although Qadeem cites many statistics,
most are simply irrelevant to her case that the costs would exceed the benefits.
The bottom line is that once phased in the vaccine would prevent about 2500
painful premature deaths from cervical cancer every year in the U.S., at a cost of
probably less than about $100,000 per life saved. (The cost of the vaccine would be
much less than the current list price when it is offered in large-scale programs.) That’s
not expensive by the standards of other domestic public health expenditures. Furthermore,
as a genuine preventive method, the vaccine is much preferable to cancer
treatments (surgery, chemotherapy) which can have very serious side effects.
Qadeem also raises speculations about possible serious side effects of the vaccine.
In one case, the claim that the trace amounts of aluminum (tiny compared to
the amounts in many antacids) might cause Alzheimer’s disease is simply false.
Other speculations about possible ill effects are unlikely to prove significant, since
the clinical trial was ended due to the 100% success rate against targeted viral
strains coupled with the lack of any detected adverse effects. Beneficial side
effects are much more likely, since even non-lethal cervical cancer creates major
problems. Furthermore the vaccine protects against strains which cause 90% of all
genital wart cases. Genital warts create major dangers in pregnancy, and the open
sores they create are believed to facilitate the spread of HIV and other STDs.
Qadeem scrambles other facts. The vaccine has been confirmed to be fully effective
for at least five years, and counting. She says instead that “at best, immunity
has been slated for 5 years”. She warns that the vaccine should not be used by
pregnant women. Since the current plans, as she states, are to give the vaccine to
6th graders, that’s unlikely to be a major problem.
If Qadeem had ever had to watch, as I have, a loved one die young of a cancer
whose treatment (or prevention) was introduced just barely too late for her, I do
not believe she would so easily dismiss thousands of cancer victims as not worth
saving because they are “so rare”.
Michael B. Weissman is a Professor of Physics at the Uof I

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