Merck’s Cancer Vaccine & the Religious Right

A couple of days ago, from Reuters: Merck cancer vaccine faces Christian-right scrutiny

Merck’s vaccine to prevent the world’s most prevalent sexually transmitted infection sailed through a panel of U.S. health experts, despite early fears of opposition from the Christian Right that it might lead to promiscuity and a false sense of security.

The drugmaker’s efforts to educate Christian groups while touting the vaccine’s top selling point — prevention of cervical cancer — helped win them over.

But Merck may ultimately find itself at loggerheads with those same groups as it seeks to make the vaccine mandatory for school admission, a step considered key for widespread acceptance and one that many of the groups oppose.

Quick list of ethically interesting features of this story:

  • The school-vaccination connection. Apparently (and here I’m just repeating what I read on the Women’s Bioethics Project Blog) “the vaccine is more effective when it’s given between the ages of 10 to 15.” Talk about an ethically touchy product to market: one that helps prevent sexually transmitted disease, but which is aimed at kids. Wouldn’t want that job!
  • Wow, does the religious right ever have a lot of power in the U.S.! I live in Canada, and find it hard to imaging this story even being an issue, here. Wow. I don’t think Canadian-based companies (often?) have this particular issue to deal with.
  • The whole idea of expanding the market for your product by getting it onto lists of state-required vaccinations raises interesting issues. State-enforced vaccination of any kind is not universally popular. And cervical cancer is not exactly the kind of disease for which vaccinating school-kids makes obvious sense on public health grounds.
  • Maybe I read too quickly, but I didn’t see any mention of any risks associated with this vaccine. Surely there must be some? And if so, that adds another dimension to the state-enforced vaccination issue. (If you can help me on that question, let me know.)

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