Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Scientific breakthrough raises awkward questions for parents

Cervical cancer kills around half a million women a year worldwide. A new vaccine protects against the STD that causes the cancer, but some parents fret over what to tell their children about the jab

By Carey Goldberg  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BOSTON

David Watson has already begun thinking about his pitch for a new vaccine to block the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

"What I will probably do is point out that last year alone, more people died of cervical cancer, which was pretty much directly produced by Human Papillomavirus, than were killed in Sept. 11," said Watson, president of Pediatrics West, a private practice with offices in Concord, Westwood, and Groton, Massachusetts. "People appreciate those sorts of comparisons."

Parents will soon start hearing similar pitches from their children's doctors, supplementing a television and magazine ad campaign already begun by Merck & Co, the manufacturer of the vaccine, which is expected to receive federal approval next week.

While most pediatricians support the new vaccine, called Gardasil, they also recognize that it may not be quickly or universally adopted.

Early studies show that the vaccine is largely effective at preventing the cervical cancer and genital warts caused by four predominant strains of the sexually transmitted Human Papillo-mavirus, or HPV. But there are other strains the vaccine doesn't address, so women will still need to get annual Pap smears to check for cervical cancer, which kills 4,000 Americans annually and nearly half a million worldwide.

The vaccine is also inconvenient -- three separate shots must be given over six months -- and expensive, costing US$300 to US$500 for the required doses. Insurance companies generally cover the cost of vaccinations that receive federal approval.

Some parents are skeptical about vaccines in general, or are uncomfortable facing the fact that their cute preteen might someday be sexually active. Gardasil is likely to be recommended for girls as young as nine to 11.

"Most of us are a bit leery about going into the gory details about different sorts of sexual transmission," Watson said.

But that might not be necessary, he and other doctors said.

"I'll probably focus on the fact that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer in my sell, and not on the fact that this prevents a sexually transmitted disease," said Joseph Hagan, a Burlington, Vermont, pediatrician active in the American Academy of Pediatrics. "You know why? Because my Dad sold insurance, and I know what to emphasize and what not to emphasize."

Parents, too, say they might not get into awkward questions of sexuality. In general, said Lynn Randall of Concord, whose daughters are 12 and 15, when one of her girls gets a shot, "We're not telling her what she's being vaccinated against; usually it's just a shot to her -- one of many shots she gets in her pediatrician's visits."

Irene Freidel, of Littleton said that if her 11-year-old daughter, Claire, were vaccinated tomorrow, she would most likely tell the girl only that "it was something that was going to protect her, like any other vaccination, and is good for her health."

"She just turned 11," Freidel said. "We have talked about the facts of life, but I don't know that she's ready at this point to get into more than we've already discussed." They will talk more in the future about the hazards of sexuality, she said, but right now, "I cling to her innocence."

Overall, Freidel said, she welcomes the vaccine and does not worry that, as some advocates of abstinence have warned, it might encourage promiscuity.

This story has been viewed 4473 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top