SACRAMENTO—If there's one thing that Republican presidential candidate (and current Texas governor) Rick Perry can claim to have done right, it's the executive order he issued on February 2, 2007, that required all female children attending Texas public schools to receive the three-dose course of Gardasil anti-HPV vaccinations before entering the sixth grade.
As AVN readers may know, human papillomavirus (HPV) is the single most common sexually transmitted disease affecting both males and females. It is virtually symptom-free in its early stages, and in 90 percent of cases, the infected person's immune system will clear the body of the virus within two years. However, for those who remain infected, the virus can cause genital warts—and in more advanced cases, cervical cancer as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils).
The disease can be passed through just about any form of sexual contact—oral, genital or anal—and is so common that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. The vaccine, however, is quite effective, and is recommended for all girls/women 11 to 26 years of age, with the vaccine being most effective if administered to 11- and 12-year-olds.
Of course, Perry has taken a lot of shit recently for having issue the executive order, which was quickly overturned by legislative vote, but he had a good reason for issuing it: Money. About four months before Perry issued his order, Merck & Co., the firm that produces Gardasil—one of two vaccines which immunize against the most common strains of HPV—donated a total of $10,000 to Perry and eight other Texas lawmakers, as well as a total of $352,500 to the Republican Governors Association beginning in 2006, when Perry joined the group, and continuing through his becoming chairman in 2008 and again in 2011.
In any case, Rep. Michelle "I'm always wrong" Bachmann (R-CloudCookooland) made an issue of Perry's order at the recent Tea Party debate in Tampa, and the next day even claimed that the vaccine (which, as noted above, was never administered) had caused mental retardation in one girl. (Bachmann has been challenged by several prominent bioethicists to produce evidence of such retardation, with Dr. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania offering to donate $10,000 to Bachmann's favorite charity if she provides such proof.)
But while Perry may be busy attempting to walk back his support for the vaccinations, California in the meantime has passed Assembly Bill (AB) 499, which provides in part that, "A minor who is 12 years of age or older may consent to medical care related to the prevention of a sexually transmitted disease."
Almost needless to say, some ultra-religious groups went nuts when the state senate approved the bill on August 31 because "God forbid" that a state recognize that 12-year-olds 1) may be engaging in sexual activity at that age, and 2) may be able to avoid some of the more unpleasant (not to say deadly) outcomes of such behavior by a simple medical treatment.
"This bill is one of the most egregious violations of parental rights, next to the right to provide abortions for minors without parent knowledge," wrote a spokesperson for the group Catholics for the Common Good. "If it passes, parents will have no right to decide whether or not their child will receive vaccinations that could jeopardize their health. Additionally, children will be approached by Planned Parenthood and other adults encouraging them to be vaccinated to prepare them to become sexually active." [Emphasis in original]
Besides the claim that the HPV vaccine "could jeopardize their health"—several studies have shown that the vaccine is safe for virtually all users, and the Centers for Disease Control have reported that of approximately 35 million doses administered, there have been just under 1,500 adverse reactions following injection—Catholics for the Common Good chairman William B. May has claimed that allowing schools to administer the vaccine would be a "wasteful expenditure of public funds because 73 percent of teenagers who take the first injection of Gardasil do not become immunized."(Duh! It's a three-course series!)
May also sees a problem in the fact that, "[t]he bill's sponsor, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, received 60 percent ($477,000) of their total corporate grants from Merck in 2010" and "another $97,000 in the first quarter of 2011." Because yeah, OB-GYNs couldn't possibly want to prevent young women from developing warts and cancers that, besides leaving them sterile, could cause them to die a slow, horrible death.
Way to go, anti-sexual religious nuts!
UPDATE: As one of the diarists on DailyKos.com noted, a recent poll conducted by DailyKos in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) revealed that when asked if the person would "support or oppose requiring girls entering the 6th grade to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, also known as HPV," not one of the several demographics reported anything close to support for the vaccinations. As one might expect, Republicans opposed requiring the vaccinations 64-17 with 19 percent undecided, but even those identified as liberals could only muster 34 percent in support, with 48 percent opposed. Overall, 57 percent of all those polled opposed the mandate, while just 22 percent supported it.
"Vaccines save lives," commented Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, in response to the HPV controversy at the Tea Party debate. "The HPV vaccine in particular attacks cancer through its infectious source and will save the lives of thousands. It is the forerunner of a new approach to disease prevention; an approach that has enormous promise to save millions of lives in the future and be part of our 21st century tool chest to end cancer as we know it. Some vaccines should be required, as we do for some of our childhood vaccines. However the decision to mandate the vaccine in Texas did not go through an appropriate public policy decision making process, and we are now seeing the negative political and social ramifications of that decision."
Attorney R. Alta Charo, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, was more pessimistic: "Cancer prevention has fallen victim to the culture wars."