HPV Vaccines Don't Really Apply to Black Women

Illustration for article titled HPV Vaccines Don't Really Apply to Black Women

New research has indicated that HPV vaccines do not carry the strains of the disease that most affect black women, citing a lack of diversity in clinical trials of the vaccine. HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, has about 100 different strains, 40 of which are spread by sexual contact. The vaccines used today, Gardasil and Cervarix only cover just a few of those strains.

According to the research, black women were half as likely as white women to be infected by two most common strains covered by the current vaccines, which could explain the high cervical cancer rates in black women.

Among other things, this study emphasizes the importance of including more ethnicities in clinical trials. We are gaining more and more insight into just how crucial a role genetics plays in how we respond to disease and how one vaccine does not fit all.

But there is some good news! A new HPV vaccine that protects against more strains of the virus is in advanced stages of development. Hopefully it won't be too long before our HPV vaccinations can actually address the women that may otherwise be vulnerable.

[NBC, Cleveland.com]

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Image via AP

DISCUSSION

I think it's important to note that there is no biological difference between black women and white women. Race is a social construction that does not reflect any genetic reality; indeed, there is more variation within any human population than among any two populations. In practice, that means that a "black" person can have more genetic similarity to a "white" person than another "black" person. Applying that to the HPV example tells us that the HPV vaccine doesn't protect ANYBODY from the less common strains, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, there seems to be a social element at play leading to a higher rate of these strains in black women. But that doesn't mean we need a better vaccine for black women - rather, we need a better vaccine for the less common HPV strains.