Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Texas Governor taking heat for vaccine requirement

Gov. Rick Perry has recently made a surprise move that has generated quite a backlash among his most solid supporters. His mandate involves the newly released HPV vaccine, and it would require all sixth grade girls to get the vaccine in order to attend public school. Sounds harmless on the surface, but this blogger (along with MANY Texas voters and lawmakers) has a big problem with it.

First, a little background. I’m a family practice physician, so I know a thing or two about this. HPV is a virus – or rather a group of viruses – that have been connected to cervical cancer. It is acquired through sexual intercourse and condoms have not shown to be protective. Like many cancer causing agents, the risk of cancer increases with exposure. So the more sex someone has and the more partners they have, the higher chance they have of acquiring one of these viruses. There are literally dozens of these viruses, but about a half dozen specifically are responsible for causing upwards of 70% of all cervical cancer. It’s these half dozen that were targeted with the vaccine. So, in theory, this vaccine would protect someone from viruses that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers. There is not 100% protection. Someone who gets the vaccine still needs to have their Pap smear done and still needs to understand the risk of promiscuity. So, this vaccine is good, but it’s not going to eradicate cervical cancer like we did with smallpox.

Cervical cancer is still a problem, but it’s not the major problem that it once was. We screen for it with pap smear exams and we’ve become very good at detecting early precancerous changes and treating them before they develop into cancer. Deaths from cervical cancer have become more rare over the decades. Those at risk today are mainly people who don’t get pap smears and people who have a lot of sex with a lot of different people. Sounds un-PC, but it’s true. Slutty behavior in women puts them at higher risk for cervical cancer.

The prudent arguments against Perry involve public health issues. Is HPV a public health problem? Remember, we’re not talking about measles or chicken pox, things that one can acquire simply from being coughed on. No, HPV requires a little effort to obtain. Sending kids to school un-immunized won’t exactly threaten the public with a crippling epidemic. So toss that concern out. Then there’s cost. It’s the most expensive vaccine right now, who will pick up the bill? Then there are questions around Perry’s involvement with Merck. They contributed to his campaign. Is this a political favor on his part? Then there are medical questions still unanswered. This vaccine is brand new. It has passed FDA standards but there is no long term data on its safety. So is it safe to mandate all sixth graders to have if there is no threat of a raging epidemic?

But the big problem here is privacy infringement. Making a vaccine (something foreign injected into the body) mandatory is a major decision. Mandatory vaccination should be reserved to control diseases that pose a major threat to public health, namely the threat of a widespread epidemic. HPV poses no such threat. In fact, one can minimize their risk of HPV simply by practicing more conservative sexual behavior or, in a word, abstinence. I know a lot of Liberals just cringed because that word is a big no-no in liberal land, but once again we find that abstinence is an effective policy at disease control. Thus we arrive at the true crux of the matter. What we want in our secular-progressive moral relativistic world is the ability to have more inconsequential sex – and lots of it. It’s right there next to the right to no-fault divorce and the right to flush an unwanted fetus. We keep pushing things into law that seem to minimize any risk that comes with slutty behavior. That’s why I think this issue will stick around a while. That’s why many people in Texas are upset about this. The conservative base, and many of Perry’s supporters, don’t plan on raising their girls to be slutty and thus don’t see a pressing need to immunize them against this virus with a vaccine that hasn’t proven to be safe long-term and may, in an indirect way, encourage the slutty behavior that we teach against. We feel we have the right to make that choice, and our child’s public education shouldn’t be a factor in that decision. This is a big-time privacy issue and Perry is just flat out wrong on this one. Luckily, the state legislature will likely put a stop to his insanity, but again I don’t think this issue will go away. Many states will be involved in similar battles.

If you want to immunize your kid then fine, but don’t force me to do the same without a damn good reason. Perry fails to provide that reason. My kid won’t get this vaccine because I don’t see HPV as a threat to her. She may put herself at risk, but as her father I will not encourage that risk. When she turns 18, then she can make her own decisions, and so it is in America. People have the right to choose for themselves so long as what they choose does not put others at significant risk. Choosing not to have an HPV shot doesn’t put others at risk, while engaging in risky sexual behavior does in many ways that aren’t just limited to HPV. Abstinence can prevent many more diseases than mandatory immunization. So why don’t we target the risky sexual behavior? Why not have children sign an abstinence pledge prior to entering high school? Try passing that into law and see what happens.

Perry has overstepped his bounds in a big way and this blog will be watching the state legislature. Those who vote in support of the Governor, and against your privacy rights, will be listed on this site.


Allisoni Balloni said...

I agree with you about requiring the vaccine. It isn't necessary and should be a personal choice. I just wanted to say that abstinence pledges WILL NOT decrease the amount of sexual activity among teenages. Abstinence-only sex education and Abstinence pledges have already proved not only ineffective, but have actually worsened the statistics. Lubbock, Texas, which has instated Abstinence-only sex ed, has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth control in the nation. As a teenager myself (although not for much longer), I can guarantee you that when teenagers want to have sex, they will have sex. Even a promise to an adult or a pastor or whoever it may be will not stop teen hormones if they change their mind. The better approach is to make sure that teenagers (and adults, for that matter) understand the risks and how to protect themselves. Abstinence is absolutely the safest path, and no one is discouraging that. But it is not realistic and therefore our yound people need to be educated about the decisions they may choose to make.

Allisoni Balloni said...

*that was supposed to read "highest rate of teen pregnancy and STDs."

John said...

I think the whole idea of forced vaccination is ridiculous - and the State has NO right to force parents to have this done to their child! What is Texas becoming? A dictatorship? A police state? I suggest that the parents of young girls in that state start packing and move out, soon.

Anonymous said...

What? Immunizing your child against cancer isn't a damn good enough reason?