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HPV Vaccine Mandate? I'm pro-choice on that.

The Editor's Column
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2007/1/23 2:02:20 (4681 reads)

The Dallas Morning News wrote Saturday about a proposal in the Texas Legislature to require the HPV vaccine for girls entering sixth grade. Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D - Houston) has proposed in House Bill 215 (submitted in November, 2006) that all girls entering grade 6 be required to receive the vaccine for human papilloma virus, and that all parents or guardians must be provided information about the dangers of transmission of the cervical-cancer-causing virus.

While some conservatives and religious activists oppose the bill because they think that it somehow encourages sexual promiscuity, I oppose the bill for a different reason.

First let me address the promiscuity argument:
1. HPV is very common, and is carried by males with no symptoms.
2. Even if a girl abstains from intercourse until she marries, she may still contract the disease from her husband, who has not abstained.
3. Married women may contract the disease when their husbands have unprotected intercourse outside of the marriage.
4. There are plenty of other reasons why teens should abstain from sexual intercourse, whether it be other diseases for which there are no vaccines (like HIV, herpes, etc.) not to mention pregnancy, and emotional immaturity.
5. KIDS DO IT. It happens. Kids get curious and they make mistakes. They know right from wrong. We need to teach them the difference between bad and worse. A kid who makes the wrong decision about sex can still make the right decision about contraception and STD prevention.
6. Most sixth graders have NO CLUE what HPV is, and it would not even register to them. To assume that children make calculated risks, and that having a vaccination would lead to increased promiscuity just gives them too much credit.

All that being said, I have several problems with this legislation:
1. The outs given to parents are based on religious beliefs. It leaves no room for the idea that parents should be allowed to have a say in the health decisions of their children. Many parents, for legitimate reasons, choose not to have their children immunized due to other factors, such as thimerosal preservatives.
2. This vaccine, although recently approved by the FDA, simply doesn't have enough history behind it to prove its long-term effects.
3. Gardisil, the only brand (Manufactured by Merck), is presumably still under patent, which is why the immunizations cost in the neighborhood of $200, which will be a financial hardship for many parents.

Here's what I would recommend to get this thing right:
1. Go ahead with the requirements to notify parents about the availability of the vaccine. Make sure they understand the benefits, costs, and risks.
2. Allow parents to opt-out based on their safety concerns.
3. Provide some sort of financial assistance for girls from families with low income. Perhaps the state can work a deal with Merck to purchase the vaccine at a discount and administer it in school clinics at reduced cost.

I'm all for public health, and I would like to see HPV eradicated so that women do not have to suffer cervical cancer. However, as a parent, I believe I have a right to make health decisions like this for my children. Personally, if I had been blessed with a girl, I would want to wait a couple of years before getting her the vaccine, unless I knew that she was promiscuous. It would be a decision that I would want to make with my wife.

I hope the Legislature will take the right course on this one, and take it for the right reasons. I also hope that the vaccine proves to be effective and popular, and that the price comes down to levels where more young women can afford it if they so choose.

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