Texas governor orders mandatory HPV vaccination

Inoculations will be required for all girls entering sixth grade.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 3, 2007 12:36AM (EST)

To hear it told by some conservatives, Texas teens are in the fast lane on the highway to hell. But -- hey! -- at least they'll be better protected from cervical cancer.

Today, Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order to require all girls entering sixth grade to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, according to the Associated Press. Perry, a conservative Republican opposed to abortion and stem cell research, avoided the battle such an aim would incite in the Legislature by issuing the order himself. Despite the fact that we can now successfully vaccinate against HPV -- the most common cause of cervical cancer, which kills 4,000 women yearly -- many conservatives are up in arms over the implications of inoculating young girls against a sexually transmitted disease. To do so would undercut messages about safe sex, possibly encouraging sexual activity, they argue.

This line of reasoning is so loony, so unabashedly callous, it's amazing to hear it so widely parroted. It essentially deems naughty girls who do not heed parental warnings about the dangers of unsafe sex as expendable -- either to an HPV, a disease we can prevent, or, in the worst cases, cervical cancer. "The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer," Perry said. "If there are diseases in our society that are going to cost us large amounts of money, it just makes good economic sense, not to mention the health and well-being of these individuals, to have those vaccines available."

That's the thing -- there's little argument against the fact that this vaccine, made by Merck & Co., should be available. It's the idea that it is required that gets more than just the abstinence-only folks hot under the collar. I actually am sympathetic to a visceral uneasiness over the idea of an entire gender being required by the state to get vaccinated against something. (But perhaps that's just a byproduct of being raised in Berkeley, Calif., where tinfoil hats are as common as tie-dyed shirts.)

But, setting aside irrational paranoia, I'm all for mandatory HPV vaccinations. Consider that the FDA has found evidence that the vaccine is much less effective in young women who have already been exposed to HPV strains. (It might also worsen existing cases of cervical cancer.) If the HPV vaccination isn't mandatory and a girl's parents decide against having her inoculated, by the time she's able to make the decision for herself, its effectiveness has been seriously reduced. In effect, she has been denied her right to be inoculated against HPV -- which can only otherwise be fully prevented through abstinence.

Though, no matter where you stand on mandatory vaccinations -- and how it should be reasonably decided which inoculations are compulsory -- Perry's motivation in pushing the order forward is worth reconsidering. The AP spells it out pretty clearly: "Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government [a major promoter of the vaccine]. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government. Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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