Thursday, February 18, 2010

Children to be given Gardasil or Cervarix without parents’ knowledge or consent?

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Imagine. You brush up against your daughter and she winces; you pull up her sleeve and see the telltale needle mark. She’s what, perhaps 12 years old.

It was Gardasil, not heroin, duh, she says. The nurse said it was safe and now I will never get cervical cancer. Don’t you want me to stay healthy, Mom?

Well, yes. And so, because you know that she has a strong family history of autoimmune disease on both sides, you’ve deliberately chosen to protect her health by avoiding getting her extra shots. Particularly Gardasil, because it’s a novel type of genetically engineered vaccine, as yet unproven, and of questionable value. You’re cautious because it has anecdotally been associated with autoimmune diseases—which are triggered in susceptible individuals by environmental factors—and your doctor has advised you, dammit, to be cautious with shots.

But now your informed decision has been overridden by a complete stranger.

Ridiculous?

If the scenario of a minor child—as young as nine—being given a shot without a parent’s knowledge or consent seems absurd, think again. New York Senate bill S4779, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and co-sponsored by Senators Adams and Parker, provided for exactly that. And although S4779 has been held in the Senate Codes Committee for improvement and clarification of the bill's language, Ms. Krueger is reportedly determined to get it through at some point. Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has sponsored  New York Assembly bill A06702, which is almost identical apart from an attempt to make vaccination with Gardasil mandatory for school attendance.

The bills seek to ensure “that a health care practitioner may provide medical care related to the prevention of a sexually transmissible disease, including administering vaccines, to a person under age eighteen without the consent or knowledge of his or her parents or guardians, provided such person has capacity to consent to the care, without regard to the person's age, and the person consents. The section provides further that any release of patient information regarding vaccines provided under this section shall be consistent with sections 17 and 18 of the public health law.”

Wonderful. Not only could a nurse shoot up my kid with Gardasil or Cervarix even if I’ve specifically decided against it, I couldn’t find out for sure what those needle marks are. I’d have no clue as to why my child might have started convulsing, as did two girls in Spain right after getting their shots.

The whys and wherefores

Although some bloggers have speculated about the motives of these zealous legislators, particularly with regards to campaign contributions by Merck, I don’t doubt that they think they’re doing the right thing—even if they’re in fact being preposterously over-reaching. Merck has done a fantastic job of persuading the public, including (apparently) some legislators, that if our kids don’t get the three Gardasil shots at a total cost of around $400 per child, they’re gonna get cervical cancer. Why bother to research the real facts?

Merck, of course, has notoriously been highly unscrupulous about its sales jobs—from concocting an entire fake medical journal and deliberately discrediting doctors and researchers who questioned Vioxx to paying off professional medical associations (PMAs) to promote Gardasil to other health professionals, without any appropriate transparency and discussion of risks and benefits. Not to mention its participation in the skewing of reporting drug trials endemic in professional journals.

The company is not going to spend a whole lot of effort on educating anyone about the full pros and cons of Gardasil and the truth about HPV. Particularly when its Gardasil sales have just plummeted by almost 80 percent in Australia, where a massive HPV vaccination campaign has ended.

Nor can we rely on doctors to educate themselves and us. In the context of Gardasil, Newsweek even quoted Susan Wood, former head of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health, as believing that there was no relationship between a healthy diet and a strong immune system that could fight off HPV on its own and leave a natural immunity in its wake—totally contrary to solid scientific evidence.

And so we have legislators falling for the quick fix. Kids are having sex, their theory goes, and indulging in risky behavior. They already come to us to get birth control and treat STDs, so let’s PREVENT the STDs with a very expensive shot that must be safe because the government says so (Vioxx, anyone? BPA? Tambocor? Thalidomide?). It must be effective because Merck says so. Parents, of course, are just naïve, uncaring, and/or prudish and should have no say in the matter.

Never mind that kids who are already having sex have a heightened risk of developing a high-grade cervical abnormality if they are infected with vaccine-type HPV when they get Gardasil—particularly if they smoke.

The capacity to consent

But wait. The target kids have to have the “capacity to consent,” right? They can make decisions for themselves, especially if they’re already having sex, a supposedly adult activity. Gardasil is recommended for kids as young as nine, and kids as young as nine have been known to have sex ‘willingly.’

The capacity to consent implies the ability to understand and weigh all the pros and cons of Gardasil. Frankly, I’ve been giving my DOCTOR info that she, as an overworked professional, didn’t have previously. And yet Ms. Krueger and friends think that a nine year old—hell, a sixteen year old—can sit there and figure it all out before making an informed decision?

I’d think a lot better of Ms. Krueger if she initiated healthier foods in schools. Or campaigns that educated kids about the behaviors that cause persistent HPV infections and, potentially, cancers. I’d be good with efforts to teach parents about Gardasil, honestly cataloging the risks and benefits. I’m not necessarily against Gardasil for the right, most at-risk population as long as their family history is taken into consideration.

But I am totally against usurping parents’ rights, making uninformed decisions, and encouraging kids to make uninformed decisions. Especially when there’s a financial motive on the part of clinics and drug companies.

That’s what cigarette companies do. Is Senator Krueger the new face of the Marlboro Man?

Here’s the straight talk for your kids, just in case legislators nationwide are daft enough to jump on the Krueger bandwagon. What you need to know about Gardasil

4 comments:

ccalin said...
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papia said...
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Kristin Johns said...

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Anonymous said...

I'm really sickened by the way legislators have pushed to get this through. Parents and families should have *some* rights for heaven's sake.

I chose not to get Gardasil for any of my kids for exactly the reason you brought up. I have MS and my sister has Grave's Disease, so my doctor told me our kids could be at higher risk. Shame on any legislator who tires to make decisions about our kids for us.