Vaccine could wipe out cervical cancer soon
THE GOVERNOR of Texas recently mandated that 11- and 12-year-old girls would receive a new vaccine to protect them from cervical cancer. Gov. Rick Perry did allow several "opt out" provisions. But, will something similar happen in Hawaii? No, judging by current legislative activity, there are no surprises regarding cervical cancer vaccines in store here. The state Department of Health and legislators are glad that there soon will be several brands of vaccines on the market. Good news for women and girls who wish to avail themselves of this medical advance.
There has been a great deal of interest at the Capitol regarding the availability of vaccines. There are bills calling for insurance coverage requirements for these vaccinations, inclusion of them in the DOH free Teen Vax program and a Women's Caucus measure to appropriate funds so the DOH can conduct an educational campaign.
In 2005, the Women's Caucus launched a Speakers Bureau to reach women's groups to tell the: about the causes of this dread disease (human papilloma virus, or HPV); how to detect it (PAP smears and HPV tests); how to deal with it (your gynecologist will recommend a protocol); and how to prevent it (with the new vaccines). The Women's Caucus hopes to go "on tour" again later this year.
In late 2006, the Women's Caucus met to discuss the pros and cons of cervical cancer vaccines with health department officials, health insurers and several organizations that deal with cancer. This group was excited by the news that several vaccines would be coming on line.
The health insurers and health maintenance organizations present reported that they covered cervical cancer vaccinations. Medicaid and a children's insurance program will cover the availability for children from low-income families. Between these two populations is a gap group that will require attention.
The upshot of the meeting was a consensus that folks need to be educated about the extreme prevalence of HPV, the precursor to cervical cancer; that 80 percent of people contract HPV at some time; that it generally clears of its own accord; that HPV is sexually transmitted; and that 5 percent of HPV infections result in cancer. Finally, people should know that vaccines are expected to prevent cervical cancer caused by 70 percent of HPV types and 90 percent of genital warts.
While public health experts advise that universal vaccination would help eradicate cervical cancer, most parties at the meeting agreed that by increasing awareness, people would see the wisdom of vaccination. It was noted that the Michigan legislature was considering mandatory vaccination of young girls, but that proposal did not pass. Then, a few weeks ago, the Texas governor announced his mandatory vaccination program. A strong and immediate reaction followed Perry's announcement. The program should have been preceded by education and understanding on the part of the Texas constituency, and Perry's hasty action might have a negative effect on the general public's acceptance of the vaccines.
Two hundred and fifty thousand women die of cervical cancer worldwide each year. It is the No. 2 killer of women. In the United States, cervical cancer will claim "only" 4,000 lives because of better detection. Even that number can be reduced drastically. Now, with vaccines, we are at the brink of wiping out this dread disease in the United States. Legislators are working toward that goal for Hawaii.
Rep. Barbara Marumoto, a Republican, represents Waialae Iki, Kalani Valley, Waialae Nui, Diamond Head and Kahala.