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Virginia is at the forefront of mandating that school-age girls be vaccinated against HPV, the sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer. With Gov. Tim Kaine’s signature, the Commonwealth of Virginia is leading what is sure to be a parade of lemmings down the Gardasil path.
Fortunately for parents, Kaine amended the legislation to provide a strong opt-out provision. Plenty of people object to having their sixth-grade daughters vaccinated against a virus they can catch only by having sexual intercourse.
I will be one of those parents exercising my opt-out rights on behalf of my 12-year-old daughter.
It’s not that the vaccine is without merit. Science has apparently provided a means by which thousands of women will be spared HPV infection and a potential diagnosis of cervical cancer.
But there is no reason to make human papillomavirus vaccinations mandatory for school attendance. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. It is not passed through casual contact, like measles, mumps, chicken pox or any of the other diseases for which mandatory vaccination makes sense. No matter how germ-infested my child’s classroom is, one germ she won’t catch there is HPV.
Nevertheless, the media are steadily beating the drum for Gardasil, from editorial write-ups in magazines like Good Housekeeping to full page ads in Better Homes and Gardens to the “Tell Someone” TV campaigns that incessantly push the HPV-cervical cancer link. Gardasil proponents widely assume that kids inevitably will have sex, so parents should protect their daughters by getting them vaccinated. Researchers are even jumping on the bandwagon, trumpeting statistics that show HPV is so prevalent that most sexually active adults will contract some form of it over their lifetimes.
The media are sneering at parents who have qualms about the rush to vaccinate their ‘tweens, calling them “out-of-touch.” News reports claim that conservatives don’t like the mandatory STD vaccine because they think it will lead to promiscuity. Most ignore the larger issue of parental rights – and the obligation to fight STDs by teaching good morals and personal responsibility.
However, the media are missing another side to the story. A detailed article in the Feb. 21 Washington Times makes a compelling case that 12-year-old girls should not be vaccinated. According to Merck & Co., the manufacturer of the drug, Gardasil protects against HPV for five years. Therefore, if a 12-year-old girl is vaccinated, she will probably lose the protection against HPV by the time she turns 18. The viability of booster shots is still being researched.
The Centers for Disease Control report that the highest overall prevalence of HPV is found in women aged 20 to 24. In other words, vaccinating young girls (some recommendations include vaccinating 9-year-olds) may do nothing to decrease the rates of cervical cancer caused by the two strains of HPV that Gardasil treats.
If lawmakers really want to fight cancer with HPV vaccinations, they would mandate it for older girls, not pre-teens going into sixth grade.
Further, little attention has been paid to boys. Merck says it is still testing the vaccine to determine its effectiveness in males. Men can be “silent carriers” of the disease, spreading it without knowing they have it. And condoms are virtually useless in protecting against it.
Interestingly, according to a March 22 article in Christianity Today, the Family Research Council tried several years ago to alert the media to the HPV-cervical cancer link and the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing the disease. A mocking 1999 commentary in The Village Voice summed up the attitude of the time: “What no one in the HPV brigade mentions is that, even by conservative estimates, a teeny number of people who have the virus – far less than 1 percent – will develop cervical cancer.”
In other words, it wasn’t worth putting the warnings on condoms for a minuscule number of women, but somehow it’s worth injecting our young daughters. At least, it is to some politicians and the folks at Merck who will make a fortune ($360 per child) by selling the vaccine.
However, there are signs that concerned parents are finally being heard, and Merck’s aggressive lobbying efforts to get states to mandate inoculations may have backfired.
In the last month, Merck has retreated from its massive publicity and lobbying campaign. The state of California tabled a bill to require HPV vaccination because it did not give parents enough of a voice in deciding whether their daughters should be vaccinated. The Texas attorney general has put on hold Gov. Rick Perry’s executive decree for mandatory HPV vaccinations. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., has proposed legislation blocking federal funds for states that mandate the vaccinations, saying that the program should be voluntary.
But in Virginia, mandatory HPV vaccinations are the order of the day. And some of us (it remains to be seen how many) will exercise our opt-out options. I imagine my daughter will get the HPV vaccine at some point, after it’s been more thoroughly tested. But she won’t get it when she’s 12. I am her mother. With her, I will decide when the time is right. That’s my responsibility, not the Legislature’s nor Gov. Kaine’s.
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Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.