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Parental guidance

Medicine | States and drug companies back down on vaccine mandates

Issue: "Why Grey matters," March 17, 2007

Pharmaceutical giant Merck said it would back down after parents lashed out at state-mandated vaccinations against Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease prevented by the company's new vaccine Gardasil.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. Because the vaccine must be administered to women before they become sexually active, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that preteen girls as young as 9 receive the shot.

Texas governor Rick Perry brought the controversy to its boiling point when he issued a vaccine mandate via executive order, bypassing the state legislature. The executive order already faces challenges from proposed legislation to overturn it and a lawsuit filed by a group of Texas families.

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The storm over Gardasil made the political waters too perilous for Merck, which announced in late February that it would stop lobbying state legislatures to support vaccine mandates. As of Feb. 1, 19 states and the District of Columbia were considering legislation to mandate the vaccine, according the advocacy group Women in Government.

Break-through?

Scientists at Canada's University of Alberta might have found a cure for cancer. Dichloroacetate (DCA), a drug that treats rare metabolic disorders, can repair the dysfunctional metabolisms of cancerous cells so they stop growing and eventually die. The treatment has suppressed tumors in rats and stopped human tumor cells growing in the laboratory. Researchers are forming clinical trials to see if the drug works in humans. Doctors have reason to be confident that DCA is safe because it is already approved for use in humans for diseases other than cancer.

The news of DCA's promise has patients, the media, and the scientific community at large asking, "Seriously?" The official War on Cancer has dragged on for more than 35 years with few real breakthroughs. Early detection has made survival rates go up, while improvements in treatment have made surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation more bearable. But the gains amount to baby steps on the battlefield, not victory. Will cancer's Waterloo really be won outside the U.S. pharmaceutical regime with a nonpatented, easy-to-make drug?

Maybe not. Many promising cancer treatments have disappointed scientists during clinical trials. On their website, the University of Alberta researchers working on the project convey a stern warning to today's cancer patients: "At this point, the University of Alberta, the Alberta Cancer Board and Capital Health do not condone or advise the use of dichloroacetate . . . in human beings for the treatment of cancer since no human beings have gone through clinical trials using DCA to treat cancer." Because the drug is already available on the market, researchers are concerned that desperate cancer patients will try to divert it for their own treatment before it's been tested.

Still, it's difficult not to get hyped about DCA. So far, no major side effects have surfaced in DCA research. It attacks cancer cells without affecting the healthy cells around them. It is an unpatented chemical compound in the public domain, meaning, much like bottled water, anyone who can make it can sell it.

No artificial anything

The nation's biggest dairy company said it was following customers' wishes when it decided not to sell milk from cloned cows. Dean Foods confirmed it had established the new rule in late February after a food-industry blog, Chews Wise, posted a leaked copy of the policy.

"Our decision not to accept this milk is based on meeting our consumers' expectations. We see no consumer benefit from this technology. Numerous surveys have shown that Americans are not interested in buying dairy products that contain milk from cloned cows and Dean Foods is responding to the needs of our consumers," the policy stated.

The policy followed a Food and Drug Administration proposal to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned animals. The proposal could be adopted later this year. Dean Foods includes the brands Land O Lakes, PET, Horizon Organic Milk, and others.

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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