The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.[insert shriek of dismay here]
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.
"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
The small issue here is the question of whether many young women have even heard of HPV.
The bigger question is: if you could ensure that your daughter could be safe from even one form of cancer - even if it's rare and relatively treatable, if caught in time - why on God's green earth would you hesitate for a second? Especially when it might be a brilliantly effective vaccination:
Vaccines are producing good results in clinical trials, and the first could be licensed as early as next year. GlaxoSmithKline announced in November 2004 that its vaccine, which contains two strains of HPV thought to cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers, had prevented 90 per cent of new infections and all persistent infections. The US-based firm Merck announced similar results last week with its vaccine, which contains the same two cancer-causing HPV strains plus two strains that cause genital warts.What's not to love?
The article also notes that vaccinating men might be the best way to safeguard women. Sounds like a great idea since, aside from the warts-causing strains - men are pretty much untouched by HPV and can merrily pass HPV along without ever thinking about it or popping up positive via STD screening that isn't looking for HPV in men anyway.
Newsflash - most men have it. Meaning virgin-brides will probably be infected by their husbands on their wedding nights. Why not irradicate disease when given the chance?