Sunday, February 4, 2007

Texas Becomes First State to Mandate HPV Vaccine

In a surprising, landmark decision on Friday, Texas governor Rick Perry signed an executive order that made Texas the first state to mandate a vaccine against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. Beginning in September 2008, girls entering the sixth grade will have to get Gardasil, Merck's new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

This executive order was especially remarkable, considering that Perry is a conservative Christian who opposes abortion and stem cell research, and who depends on the religious right as his political base. By signing an executive order, he purposely bypassed opposition in the legislature by social conservatives who believe the vaccine will only encourage promiscuity and will interfere in how parents raise their children. Social conservatives insisted that abstinence should be the only way that teens and young woman avoid the virus.

Perry, on the other hand, stated that the cervical cancer vaccine is no different from the one that protects children from polio.
"The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer," the governor said.

Merck has recommended Gardasil for women between age 9 and 26, stating that the vaccine is most effective if given to younger girls because the vaccine is ineffective once this very common virus is already present.

The CDC estimates that about 6.2 million Americans become infected with genital HPV each year and that more than half of all sexually active men and women become infected in their lives. More than 9,700 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths are attributed to the virus yearly in the United States. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, with 470,000 new cases annually and 233,000 deaths.

To the social conservatives who want to keep this potentially life-saving vaccine from their daughters for fear they become promiscuous, I would say, better a vaccinated live, promiscuous daughter than one who died needlessly for want of a vaccine that could have saved her life.

This view also ignores teenage human nature. It's not as if teens in the throes of passion will decide not to have intercourse because they might get cancer somewhere down the line and, conversely, none will decide it's party time simply because they now can be protected from this cancer.

Children have long been required to get a wide variety of vaccinations for various diseases before entering school and it's been no big deal for most parents. The fact that this one prevents a sexually transmitted disease shouldn't make it any different.


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