Cancer specialists campaign for kids to get HPV vaccine

hpvWhen it comes to inoculations for kids, cancer doctors want more preteens to get the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), while public health officials are encouraging shots and discouraging the use of a nasal mist to protect children against seasonal flu.

The campaign for HPV shots has shifted among medical experts, the Washington Post reported, moving from pediatricians to cancer specialists. Oncologists are pushing this vaccine, citing its effectiveness in curbing cervical cancer in girls and young women, and in helping to reduce throat cancers in men.

I’ve written before about studies showing the vaccine’s effectiveness, and the reluctance of pediatricians, in particular, to recommend this therapy robustly because that would mean talking to young patients, ages 10 to 12, about sex and sexuality.

Although those conversations also may cause consternation with kids’ parents, the cancer doctors say more urgency is needed to getting more teens vaccinated against HPV because the illnesses the shot can reduce or prevent can be painful and dire.

In Texas, a leading cancer center has gotten an elderly patient with HPV-related throat cancer to talk with pediatricians, nurses, and school officials about his disease and suffering and how the vaccine could prevent or reduce similar woe, saying, “You need to know how miserable it is to suffer from this disease.”

He talked about undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and about living with splitting headaches, neck aches and difficulties swallowing. His concluding plea: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate, boys and girls.”

Flu mist no more

It hasn’t always been easy to get squeamish little ones to get their shots, so MedImmune, a division of pharma giant AstraZeneca developed an alternative, especially for annual protection against the flu: a mist that got gently sprayed up kids’ noses.

Many youngsters seemed to prefer it, and it became a popular option for pediatricians.

But scientists for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that FluMist for three years running has performed poorly in building flu resistance, especially against the prevalent H1N1 strain, and they have recommended that its use be discontinued.

Although the firm contested the CDC recommendation, AstraZeneca has said it would take an $80 million write-down this quarter on its FluMist business, which it estimated amounted to more than $200 million annually.

Part of the company’s defense of its product, by the way, focused on vaccines’ variable effectiveness depending on the season and strain of flu. I’ve written before that health officials could be more candid with the public about flu shots’ effectiveness, and ways to better assess and understand this critical issue.

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