MAIL BAG

MAIL BAG

September 3 2007
MAIL BAG

MAIL BAG

September 3 2007

MAIL BAG

‘It was interesting to note that the majority of respondents matched the PM to a snake’

THE GARDASIL DEBATE

IT WAS WITH CONCERN that I read your cover story on the HPV vaccine (“Our girls are not guinea pigs,” Health, Aug. 27). The kinds of questions raised in the article have been debated at the introduction of virtually every public health measure in our history. Having a healthy debate is essential; however, the way Maclean's approaches the issue of the HPV vaccine is inappropriate and onesided. The suggestion that as public health officials we would support a vaccine that would put the health, or worse, the lives, of girls and women at risk, is irresponsible. The health and safety of Canadians is of paramount importance to me and to public health officials across the country.

Unfortunately, we tend to only have this debate when we are considering the introduction of prevention measures, despite the fact history has repeatedly demonstrated that public health efforts designed to prevent illness and death are consistently safer, more effective and less costly than treatment. It is easy to forget that, in science, it is impossible to eliminate all doubt. The key policy question is how much evidence is needed in order to make a positive decision. In this case, decisions have been made on the advice of many experts. While each of the concerns raised in the article could be addressed and rebutted in detail in a statement that would be longer than the original article, suffice it to say that the decision to support HPV vaccination was based on advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, a body of experts in fields including pediatrics, infectious disease, immunology, and public health, which thoroughly reviews the science, considers the issues, and offers advice. In turn, the National Advisory Com-

mittee based its recommendation on the scientific evidence, and on Health Canada’s review and approval of the vaccine. The vaccine has also been approved for use in the U.S., Australia, the whole of the European Union, and many others. It is also worth noting that our provinces’ Chief Medical Officers, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many others have endorsed the use of this vaccine.

Canadians in the thousands have already had their daughters vaccinated. We will continue to review evidence and adjust guidelines accordingly. The willingness of governments to support vaccine programs like this should be congratulated rather than criticized. Coupled with a continued emphasis on screening and other preventive measures, immunization will bring us ever closer to the promise that cervical cancer, and the deaths and illness related to it, will someday become a scourge of the past. Dr. David Butler-Jones,

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Ottawa

IS THE THREAT of cervical cancer great enough to warrant mass inoculation? Perhaps not. Although most of the young women being vaccinated will not grow up to get cervical cancer, the majority of them will have sex. For most women seeking Gardasil, the vaccination is about lowering the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Instead of focusing on the reality that “our girls” will one day be sexually active women, this article focused on the threat of cancer, while simultaneously rejecting that threat as fear-mongering.

Laura Adelman, Waterloo, Ont.

YOUR ARTICLE ON the caveats of the HPV vaccine and our national inoculation program

was very intriguing. Although cervical cancer is not yet an epidemic, it is certainly more prevalent in our society than you suggested. According to the Canadian Cancer Society and Cancer Care Ontario, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women aged 35 to 49, and the third most common cancer for

women aged 20 to 34, not the 11th most common cancer in women as you said.

Carmen Yue, Toronto

FEAR-MONGERING aside, what parents of girls should be more afraid of is the subtext here, which is the intention of Health Can-

ada to change the annual Pap smear to once every three years. Having had and survived cervical cancer, I would be dead today if I had waited three years between normal Paps. The annual Pap should not be compromised by the substitution of a vaccine’s promise, effective or not. Maeve Spain, Calgary

WE ARE GREATLY troubled by what we consider biased journalism in the article about Gardasil. To gamble with the health of millions of Canadian women by raising unfounded fears and exaggerating safety concerns about one of the most extensively tested vaccines is irresponsible. There is no question that HPV affects many Canadian lives and that the tolerability profile of Gardasil is excellent.

Dawn Graham, President, Merck Frosst Canada, Kirkland, Que.

SNAKE BITE

IN SPITE OF the information overload, the thesis in your story about the survey asking Canadians to match our political leaders to archetypal animals is obvious—Stephen Harper’s a

winner, Stéphane Dion’s a loser, yet still a threat, and Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe simply aren’t in the race (“Shall I compare thee to a hyena?” National, Aug. 13). It was interesting to note that the majority of respondents matched the Prime Minister to a snake. Consider this predator, then compare it to Harper’s approach to the vulnerable. His record is dismal on poverty at home and abroad, HIV/AIDS, affordable housing, the Kelowna accord, the national daycare program, Status ofWomen Canada, veterans’ widows and the unemployed in the forest and manufacturing sectors. Your writer Jonathon Gatehouse wisely kept a safe distance from commenting on this snake analogy. How reminiscent of the Conservative spin machine.

Walter Belsito, Echo Bay, Ont.

CALL TO ARMS

I RESPECT Maclean’s and its position that the war in Afghanistan is noble. But nothing is cut and dried. So, like any rational Canadian reader, when I go through your stories on the war in Afghanistan, I’m looking for balanced coverage (“Barbarians at the gate,” World, Aug. 13). This latest article amounted to a call to arms. Michael Petrou wrote what is at best a one-sided article; at worst, an opinion column. Where is the other side of the story? Elizabeth Bower,

Peterborough, Ont.

CANADA AS HOUSE PET

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE’S article about Canada supporting the U.S. yet acting independently is really a description of demoralizing, deceitful hooey from our ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that portrays Canada as a political household pet obedient to its omnipotent master (“Common cause, at a distance,” World, Aug. 6). For Harper to describe Canada to Chile as “proud and independent” is pure chicanery; Harper is a duplicitous Canadian Benedict Arnold who toils on a daily basis to hand over what’s left of Canad-

ian soil and sovereignty to the U.S. Furthermore, America is a bully and Canada, rather than identify America’s sins and crimes against humanity, simply cowers and appeases it.

Brian MacKinnon, Winnipeg

MORTGAGE MALAISE

YOUR EDITORIAL tolerantly approving of the U.S. subprime housing market misses a few facts of economic life (“Subprime lending: credit where it’s due,” From the editors, Aug. 27). To oversimplify only a little in the interests of bypassing a lot of bafflegab, follow this scenario: consider a Canadian retiree with a modest nest egg accumulated over a 30or 40-year working life. It’s invested in sound, nonspeculative securities. She hopes it will last her through 20 or more years of retirement. Why should she suffer a $20,000 hit because some avaricious banker in Tuscaloosa recklessly lends half a million to some barely solvent twentysomething near-deadbeat? That has happened to thousands of Canadians recently. The most important “suitable financial restraints” Canada could emplace would be to set banks’ reserve ratios at perhaps 10 per cent or higher (in real properties, not paper) to restrain reckless bankers and return to a requirement that a mortgage shall be granted only upon demonstration of past earning ability, to restrain gullible borrowers. Frank Gue, Burlington, Ont.

HEALTH FOR ALL

THE CANADIAN Medical Association wants doctors to be permitted to work in both the public and private sectors (“Tiers and more tiers,” Good News, Aug. 13). Of course it does. That way doctors can set their own fees. You say that Europe shows a public-private system can work. It did not work for our friend who lives in Wales. She needed a knee replacement and could not afford to pay for the surgery. She waited 1V2 years just to see the surgeon. After another wait of over a year she got her new knee, but it was too late. She has only very lim-

Tf you want to know what a world with almost no people would look like, just head up here to Terrace, B.C.’

ited mobility. Had she been able to afford the private sector, she would have seen the surgeon (the same doctor, by the way) and had the surgery, all within three or four months. Is this the kind of health care we want here? Harvey Tremeer, Belleville, Ont.

YOU AND THE CMA advocating private health care makes me wonder when and if you ever read the Romanow report or the five principles of medicare contained in the 1984 Canada Health Act or the poll choosing the father of public health care, Tommy Douglas, as the greatest Canadian. Bill Orr, St. Catharines, Ont.

KICKING ADDICTION

IN RESPONSE TO your article about Vancouver’s drug problem and the plan to use legally prescribed medicines to help people kick addiction, I could not disagree more with Mayor Sam Sullivan’s approach (“Take a chill pill,” National, Aug. 6). Being a resident in the heart of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, I witness the carnage day in and day out. Ongoing programs such as needle exchanges, safe injection sites, and prescription heroin have only promoted the use of drugs here, and the chronic addiction substitution treatment program seems to be a costly, unsupervised way to transfer addicts from hard drugs to potentially volatile prescriptive ones. What is the goal here? If it’s about ending the use of street drugs and reducing crime due to drug addiction, then it’s going to take a lot more time and effort from not only politicians, but also from the community. It might be hard to believe, but there are not a lot of addicts who want to kick their habit; it’s how they cope.

Sasha A. Popove, Vancouver

SHOULD WE HAVE our police controlling and monitoring the supply of what we call illegal drugs, and having them sold at prices that would drive the criminals out of the drug business, or should we let criminals have a monopoly on chemicals that many of our citizens need daily? Addicts are sick, very much like asthma sufferers. They are unlikely to change routines that work for them unless they know the changes are improvements. Addicts need clean, convenient, off-street safe havens where they won’t bother the public and the public won’t bother them. Addicts need legal sources for their drugs and equipment. This can be solved through police, professional health and social workers, and volunteers handling the front lines. Experts in all relevant fields must start working together.

Bill Pearce, Ottawa

ANY DIRECTION taken in relation to drug use in this country will be met with criticism from the fray. The unfortunate reality is that the success rate for addiction is only about 20 per cent. That leaves 80 per cent of addicts with a lifelong disease

that plays out on our streets, in our courts and in our prisons. Recovery programs function on a non-judgmental approach, so condemning the mayor for reaching out to understand the disease is deplorable. He has taken a non-judgmental approach to what is clearly a medical and mental health issue. There has been a war on drugs now for 40 years and it has accomplished nothing.

Heather Duncan, Harrow, Ont.

FEWER PEOPLE

IT IS TELLING that the photo accompanying your story of what life would be like on earth

without human beings was of an abandoned railway station and its overgrown tracks (“Please refrain from procreating,” Society, Aug. 6). Obviously, that whistle stop once had the population to make a form of mass transportation of goods and people feasible. There are plenty of places like that now in Canada. While a crowded city like Vancouver has eco-friendly alternatives like LRT, my little city in the north of British Columbia has the population to support a handful of conventional buses. Our twice-daily trains are full only in summer with tourist travel, not speeding in and out every few minutes like they do in dense Japanese or large European cities. It is because of our low population density that we need to make use of more traditional forms of transportation like individual vehicles. And because our population does not support (take your pick) either the political clout or the traffic to get old logging roads upgraded to paved provincial highways, the vehicle of choice is often, of necessity, a large sturdy truck. If you want to know what a world with almost no people would look like, just head up here.

Charlynn Toews, Terrace, B.C.

IN PASSING

Max Roach, 83, jazz musician. Along with Kenny Clarke and other performers in the 1940s, he revolutionized jazz with the introduction and elaboration of the bebop sound, distinguished by its driving, sometimes dissonant rhythms. A percussionist, he later collaborated with performers many years his junior, including hip-hop artists, video artists and even gospel choirs.

Leona Helmsley, 87, hotelier. With her husband she ran a US$5billion real estate business that included a string of hotels. In 1989 she was convicted of tax evasion. Her fame as a meticulous hotel-keeper was reversed after an employee testified Helmsley had said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay,” earning her the sobriquet “the queen of mean.”