Feb 13, 2007

Don’t mess with Texas: Gov. Perry issues executive order on HPV vaccine

by Hilary Dyer, Opinion Editor
Beginning in September 2008, all sixth-grade girls in the state of Texas will be required by law to have a vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine, which is named Gardasil, was created by Merck & Co. and was approved by the FDA in June of 2006, according to an article by the Associated Press.
The Merck & Co. Web site reports that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that has infected nearly 20 million men and women in America. Gardasil has been targeted primarily at women and young girls because HPV is also the cause of cervical cancer, which is said to be one of the chief cancers found in women.

It isn’t the vaccination that is a problem. The vaccination, in and of itself, is a very good thing. Gardasil will prevent many women all over the world from potentially going through a very traumatic and painful experience with cervical cancer.

The fact that, in Texas, all girls from sixth grade on will be required — unless a formal affidavit citing religious or philosophical reasons is submitted — to have the vaccination is another matter. Add to this the disturbing edict-like-manner by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in which the mandatory HPV vaccination was put into law.

Rather than proposing a bill that would require young women to have the HPV vaccination and allowing the Texan citizens to vote on it, or even to bring it before the state legislature, Gov. Perry simply issued an executive order.

Because he is a conservative Republican, Gov. Perry’s act is surprising. Isn’t Republican ideology supposed to promote limited government and the sovereignty of the people? Enjoining the people of Texas to vaccinate their children without offering them the right of the vote is entirely wrong.

When I first heard Gov. Perry’s announcement, my immediate thought was— I wonder what ties he has to that pharmaceutical company? As I investigated further, I realized that the thought was not entirely unfounded.

According to a Feb. 3, 2007 Associated Press article, Mike Toomey is the head lobbyist in Austin for Merck—the maker of the Gardasil HPV vaccine. Mike Toomey served as Gov. Perry’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2004.

In addition, the article said Perry’s present chief of staff, Deidre Delisi also has ties to Merck through her mother-in-law, Texas state Rep. Diane White Delisi. Merck has reportedly channeled much of its lobbying funds through the organization Women in Government, for which Rep. Delisi serves as state director. According to the article, Perry also received funds directly from Merck during his 2006 campaign for re-election.

In response, Robert Black, spokesman for the Texas governor, told the New York Times that he didn’t “put a lot of stock in that talk” about the allegations that Perry’s decision was directly influenced by Merck. Rather, Black said, the decision was made because it “protects human health; it was the right thing to do.”

However, if Perry’s main concern was the health of Texas women and making the vaccines readily available to them, he could have gone about it in other ways. Washington state, for example, has been in the process of implementing a more democratic and reasonable approach to protecting women from HPV and cervical cancer.

A bill is currently going before the Washington  Legislature that would provide the Gardasil vaccine at no cost to nearly 47,000 school-age girls, according to an AP article published on The Daily World Web site.

Unlike in Texas, this bill is being voted on, and if approved, would not be mandatory. It would simply be made available as an optional vaccine. In a news conference on Feb. 5, 2007, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said, “To go out and start just saying everybody mandatorily has to have this is a little bit troublesome to me.”

Troublesome, indeed. Although tested extensively, Gardasil is still a very new vaccine, and like most medications, the ramifications of it cannot be fully known at this point. Imposing it on young women, many of who are not even sexually active, is morally wrong.

While most Christians who promote abstinence object to the mandatory vaccine in Texas, others do not. Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association, said on the CMA Web site that while “abstinence and fidelity are always the best defense against sexually transmitted diseases,” he still believed that the HPV vaccination provided “an important measure of protection.”

Dr. Stevens also advised parents that so long as they have the option to decline the vaccination (as with providing an affidavit citing religious grounds), then they had no need to be upset by a having the HPV vaccine made compulsory.

However, whether or not the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer is not the issue. The real issue is whether or not the government should be able to force such a vaccination.

Dr. Beth Jordan, medical director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, is also in favor of a mandatory HPV vaccine. “Given that 80 percent of US adults have premarital sex by age 20, we need to get our head out of the sand and protect women against cancer, whether they practice abstinence or not,” said Dr. Jordan, according to the FMF Web site.

Dr. Jordan is an advocate of women’s reproductive and sexual health. She also advocates a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

To those of Dr. Jordan’s persuasion, I ask for consistency. If you are going to promote a woman’s right to choose abortion — why not give her the right to choose a vaccination that is also directly linked to her reproductive and sexual health?

In conclusion, society should be grateful to have found a preventative medicine for cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is something that ought to be considered by those who are not practicing abstinence or those who have married a partner who may be an HPV carrier. Yet getting the HPV vaccination ought to remain a personal decision by each individual. Gov. Perry’s executive order to administer the vaccine to all 11-to-12-year-old girls clearly oversteps the boundaries of government rule.

Contact Hilary Dyer at hadyer@liberty.edu.

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