Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I Call BS!

There's a populist-driven whirlwind racing across the land, based on sketchy data, fear of the unknown, and a firm belief that the gummint is (or should be) empowered to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to us or our fellow Americans.
And no, I'm not talking about (so-called) Global Warming.
Recently, the Governor of Texas decreed that young women must be immunized against the dreaded HPV virus. Here in the Buckeye State, a similar effort is afoot. Other states are even now taking up the banner of this "righteous cause," whose proponents consider those with reservations dangerous, misinformed, misogynistic, you name it.
After all, who could be against the health of our children (see, men are susceptible to HPV, as well)?
Well, I am, for one.
"But Prof," you may cry, "you have two (lovely) daughters of your own, surely you want to protect them?"
And indeed I do.
I do.
It's my responsibility, and part of that responsibility is to make an informed decision. Here on IB we talk a lot about personal responsibility when it comes to health care, and I would be a hypocrite if I didn't walk that walk. So let's take a look at the whole brouhaha through the lens of risk:
HPV is the Human PapillomaVirus (no relation to Papillon, of course), which is a virus that causes abnormal tissue growth (warts) and is often associated with some types of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control suggest that up to one fourth of American women (ages 14 to 59) are infected with the disease. And how do they know this? Oh, very simple: by testing vaginal swab specimens from less than 2,000 women. Yup, that's right: less than 2,000 out of an estimated 100 million women in this age cohort.
Gee, what a great statistical model!
And then there's the question of just how dangerous this "menace" really is: less than 3,700 American women are expected to die from HPV related cancer this year. While that's a terrible tragedy, let's keep a bit of perspective, shall we: about 4,000 people die in fires every year; almost 5,000 drown; 5,500 are hit by cars and die; heck, food poisoning kills some 6,500 folks every year (if we assume, reasonably, that half of those are women, then why aren't we outlawing food?).
And by the way, why just daughters? Dr. Eileen Dunne, the CDC's lead, um, person on this issue, says that "HPV prevalence is thought to be high in men as well, but none were studied." Gee, thanks!
There doesn't seem to be a percentage-based definition of an "epidemic," but according to at least one, it's characterized as "(t)he occurrence of more cases of a disease than would be expected in a community or region during a given time period." If some 25% of women (and who knows how many men) have now been infected by the HPV, then why hasn't the CDC called it an epidemic? Gosh, how many people have to become infected?
Now, I won't pretend to advocate that people avoid this vaccine like, well, the plague. But I darn sure can't agree that it's the role of our government to force our daughters (and again, why not our sons? Are they disposable?) to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease. And no, I don't have my head buried in the sand: remember we talked about risk? Well, look again at those stat's about other causes of death. We could easily outlaw swimming pools and cars, require homes to be built of concrete and furnished 100% with non-flammable items, and eat only specially processed (nuked?) foods.
Why aren't the nannies pushing for that?
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