Happy 6/6/06! Congrats to Ann Coulter for releasing her book on this Satanic date. And speaking of superstitious madness, as long as we’re putting dangerous public health threats under quarantine, let’s not forget the religious lunatics. As my colleague Richard Kim has been writing, U.S. HIV/AIDS policy shows that the sexual hysteria of the religious right can have lethal consequences. The political morass surrounding Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is another example. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a vaccine for the two strains of HPV which cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that this year, over 9,700 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and some 3,700 will die from it. So this vaccine could save thousands of lives.

What’s been holding this bold new innovation back? Moral panic. The religious right initially opposed it on the grounds that protecting people from an STD would undermine the no-sex-before-marriage message. After all, what could reinforce that message better than the threat of death? Even groups like Focus on the Family have dropped their opposition to the vaccine itself — probably realizing their position would seem indefensible to most thinking people, and that this was a battle they were going to lose — but they’re still fighting a proposal to make it mandatory for public junior high school students. This is also an appallingly irresponsible position, but one much easier to sell to the public, as it exploits deep anxieties about children and sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, and most scientists who study HPV, the vaccine is most effective if given before kids become sexually active, so let’s hope the cooler heads prevail. In any case, the fact that the Bush FDA has agreed to approve this vaccine at all represents at least a temporary victory over the forces of reaction and ignorance.