Mandatory Safe Sex

Here in Texas our esteemed governor, Rick Perry, just ordered that all girls must be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV before they can enter the sixth grade. Many bloggers are up in arms about this; American Papist has a good roundup with links. A physician-blogger comments here. NCBC also has a statement on the subject.

There are several angles to the story. First is money: the vaccine manufacturer, Merck, stands to make bundles of cash from selling this product, which is called Gardisil. They actually gave a small bundle of cash ($6,000 according to news reports) to Governor Perry's re-election campaign last year. The company is lobbying other states for similar requirements. Now I'm not sure how much it would take to buy a favor from Rick Perry; however I'll bet it is more than $6,000. The money didn't hurt but I'll bet he had other motivations.

Most of the opposition has to do with the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. Some fear that receiving the vaccine will encourage promiscuity in girls, while others are insulted that the government simply assumes that all girls will become sexually active before they are old enough to make their own decision about getting vaccinated.

There is also some confusion about the reasons the vaccine is necessary. It is described by some as cancer prevention. It is, but in a roundabout way. It goes like this, if I understand correctly: women get cervical cancer because the HPV virus is present in their bodies. The HPV virus enters their bodies only through sexual activity. So if you stop the virus, you prevent cancer - this particular kind of cancer, at least.

Personally I don't mind if parents want their daughters to receive this vaccine. Merck wants it to be state-mandated so that health insurers will be forced to cover it, which they apparently won't otherwise. This, incidentally, should tell you something. Insurance companies have a direct financial interest in keeping their customers from acquiring expensive diseases like cancer. If they won't pay for a vaccine it is because they have concluded it is either ineffective or unnecessary.

What bugs me the state mandate. Why is it necessary to force parents to do this? Maybe my daughter is not sexually active yet and doesn't intend to be any time soon. The vaccine benefits no one but Merck in her case.

Ah, some will say, we must prevent diseases from spreading in school. That's why we vaccinate against measles, chicken pox, etc. There is a difference. The other mandatory vaccines are for infections that can quickly move from one child to another simply because they are in the same classroom or playground. Not so with HPV, which spreads only through sex. So if the kids aren't having sex with each other at school, there is no threat of infection.

Another awkward point to this is the age at which it will be given. Here's what is going to happen. Your daughter will be approaching sixth grade, roughly age 11-12. You have to take her to get a shot. Kids don't like shots. She will therefore ask you: Why? This will start a conversation about topics the girl may not be ready for yet. Maybe you need to have that conversation anyway; but when and how this takes place should be for parents to decide, not forced by the state.

The most effective way to prevent infection with HPV and cervical cancer is, of course, to abstain from sex until you enter a monogamous marriage. Unfortunately this is deemed impossible in our culture. Sadly such chastity is now rare - but it is neither impossible nor unknown. Those who practice such a life should not be forced to accept treatments that presume otherwise.

UPDATE 2/17/07 - the fight isn't over. Click here for more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I feel this has become a religious moral question when it is one of health. We have finally found something to prevent cervical cancer. Thank God for that! The responsibility is ours to teach chastity to our youth. The ignorance around this vaccination is disgusting. I wanted to wait until marriage for sex. I was raped & because of the rape I had to deal with HPV & cervical cancer. I didn't have a choice with this - the choice was taken from me. If the vaccination was around when I was young I would not be dealing with this. The rape was bad enough - now I have to deal with cancer. Your daughter may not have a choice if God forbid this happens to her. Be smart & use this God Given scientific discovery. I thought I would never have to deal with this but now I do. You may think your daughter may never have to deal with this & I hope she never does but if she does, you will wish you gave her the gift of this vaccination