On Saturday morning, my 11-year-old came bounding down the stairs joyfully yelling “it’s vaccination day!” (Fellow Frozen-era parents will appreciate that we then launched into song: “The window is open, so that’s door, I didn’t know they did that anymore, who knew we owned 8,000 salad plates….”) She was genuinely excited. To her, it means that she’ll be able to do things again. She can eat indoors at restaurants. Get on a plane. Get tickets to the two Broadway plays whose soundtracks she has been singing for the whole pandemic. Go into New York City and get real Zabar’s Nova. And—probably most important to the middle school set—hang out inside with friends. The rest of the family has been vaccinated since May, but we’ve continued to restrict a lot of our activities because she was not, so we’re all excited about these things opening up to us as well.
I’m also proud of my county which is doing a great job distributing vaccines (even if getting vaccinated in an abandoned Kmart feels a little post-apocalyptic) and the people in it who had snatched up three days of pediatric appointments by 6am of the morning following CDC approval. I wish this were the story all over the country and the world, but I know that it’s not. There is still vaccine resistance, which is both demoralizing (see the story below about Tennessee letting doctors lie) and infuriating (see the story below about the success of the HPV vaccine). On the plus side, some attempts to increase vaccine acceptance are pretty funny (see the story below about the penis doctors’ PSA).
Before we get to all of that, however, I feel that you should know that a truck load of condoms and lube was stolen from a parking lot in Canada. The truck had $72,000 worth of Skyn products on board including condoms, lube, and what the media is describing as “accessories” (are they suddenly afraid to say sex toys?). The funny thing about this is that it’s unclear if the thieves had any idea what they were stealing or if they were really just after the truck itself. If that’s the case, I really wish I could have been there when they got to the chop shop and opened the back.
HPV Vaccine Reduces Cervical Cancer by 87%
Analysis of the HPV vaccination program in England has shown yet again just how effective vaccines can be. A new study, published in The Lancet, looks at cervical cancer rates in the country before and after the introduction of Cervarix, the version of the HPV vaccine that was approved for use in England. In 2008, the country made Cervarix part of the regular vaccine program for girls 12–13 and offered a catch-up program for those 14–16. For this study, researchers examined data on women ages 20 to 60 from a population-based cancer registry in order to estimate the reduction in cervical cancer rates.
The analysis found that the vaccine had averted an estimated 448 cases of cervical cancer and an estimated 17,235 incidences of pre-cancerous changes to the cervix among women in the country. The authors concluded that young women who received the vaccine at 12 or 13 had an 87% reduction in cancer risk compared to those who were not vaccinated. (The reduction went down when young people received the vaccine at later ages.) Even more exciting—the authors believe that England has essentially eliminated cervical cancer for anyone born after 1995.
Dr. Vanessa Saliba, MD, a consultant epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, said in a statement, “These remarkable findings confirm that the HPV vaccine saves lives by dramatically reducing cervical cancer rates among women…This reminds us that vaccines are one of the most important tools we have to help us live longer, healthier lives."
The interesting thing about cervical cancer is that we had already done a lot to prevent it before the vaccine was even invented. In the early 1900s, cervical cancer was the number one killer of women in the United States but the introduction of the Pap smear in the 1940s and its widespread use in the decades that follow (for many years, it was recommended that women get screened annually) meant that doctors were able to detect abnormal changes to the cervix and treat them before they became cancer.
The rate of cervical cancer in the U.S. had already decreased 54% from 13.07 per 100,000 women in the 1970s to 6 per 100,000 women when the vaccine was introduced in 2006. Still, upwards of 14,000 women in this country get cervical cancer each year and more than 4,000 women die from the disease.
Prevention with screening tests is good but the new study shows that vaccines actually makes elimination possible. That’s better.
Protecting Doctors Who Spread Misinformation
First do no harm; unless you’re in Tennessee. Lawmakers in that state have introduced two pieces of legislation designed to protect doctors who spread misinformation about Covid-19. One of the bills, cleverly titled the Tennessee COVID-19 Treatment Freedom Act, would prevent the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners from punishing doctors for actions “solely related to the physician’s prescription, recommendation, use, or opinion relative to treatment for COVID-19.” This protection extends to recommending treatments that haven’t been approved by the FDA.
Legislators are not doctors, and they’re not in charge of doctors. The job of licensing physicians to do their job and disciplining them if they do it badly falls to state boards. In September, Tennessee’s Board of Medical Examiners—adopting language written by the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States—had the audacity to warn its members that physicians “who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation” could have their licenses suspended or revoked. The TN board explained that physicians have a duty to use the latest scientific consensus and doing otherwise risked patients’ lives and the integrity of the profession.
Tennessee Republicans didn’t agree. Representative Chris Todd, the author of the Freedom Act, told MedPage Today: “Doctors in this state have been handed an unconstitutional ultimatum from a board that has repeatedly exceeded its legal authority. As representatives of the people, we must do everything in our power to rein in this abuse and restore the liberties and freedoms our physicians are guaranteed under our constitution.”
His colleague, Debra Moody, introduced her own bill that would protect doctors from pretty much all disciplinary action for COVID-19 medicine as long as they had “exercised independent medical judgment.”
Given the politicization of COVID-19 treatment and prevention, I bet every doctor who recommended Ivermectin to their patients despite no evidence of its efficacy was steadfast in their belief that they were exercising the utmost of independent medical judgment. (As in: “I’m not sheep despite the fact that I’m suggesting medication that would be better suited for a sheep.)
Republicans have a super-majority in Tennessee, so it’s very likely that one of these bills will pass which will be bad for patients in that state and set a dangerous precedent of political meddling in medicine. It is so easy to see how this model could be applied to abortion or birth control with legislators protecting those who say birth control causes abortion or allowing, if not encouraging, doctors to lie to patients about the risk involved in abortion procedures.
This is not new, by the way; laws in Texas and Kansas, for example, have forced doctors to tell patients that abortion causes cancer, which is, you guessed it, not how it f**king works. Other states have doctors discuss the nebulous concept of fetal pain before providing an abortion. And, at least 12 states protect doctors who refuse to tell patients about fetal anomalies/deformities in an effort to prevent abortion.
Did I mention that politicians are not doctors?
New PSA Tells Men to “Trust Us We’re Penis Doctors”
The latest attempt to get people to vaccinate is a public service announcement focused on penises or, more specifically, on erections. In it a number of men, including Saturday Night Live alum Tim Meadows, look back earnestly on the many boners they’ve had in their lives. They then learn from three on-screen urologists that men who have had Covid-19 are six times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. A shocked Meadows leads the call for men to get vaccinated and avoid this unthinkable problem.
The spot technically comes from Urologists United for Vaccination Education (UUVE), a group of 15 leading urologists, but the PSA and the group itself is the brainchild of independent ad agency Quality Meats (not to be confused, or possibly intentionally to be confused, with the NYC restaurant of the same name).
Agency Co-Founder Brian Seidband explained in a statement: “We stumbled across this fact and thought, with all the vaccine hesitancy out there, guys need to hear this. Especially younger guys who think they’re not at risk but might be not thinking about the long-term effects. Hopefully shining a light on ‘schlong COVID’ will motivate them to reconsider.”
The ad ends with the hashtag #savethefutureboners and a voice over from UUVE saying “trust us we’re penis doctors.”