HPV & Politics
During the recent Republican debate, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum took Rick Perry to task for his 2007 executive order requiring that Texas girls be vaccinated against HPV. Not surprisingly, the criticism was not based on the fact that Perry signed his executive order only a year after Merck’s Gardasil vaccine for HPV was approved. Nor was it based on the fact that Perry has ties to Merck such as receiving campaign funds from the company and being friends with one of their lobbyists.
One criticism of Perry was legitimate, namely that he had used an executive order to mandate that girls receive a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus (HPV). While the government does have an obligation to protect citizens from disease, this is generally taken as being limited to diseases that are spread by “casual contact”-that is, diseases that people can catch just by being out in public. Since an un-vaccinated person poses a threat to others (and is also threatened) the state can legitimate compel vaccinations against dangerous diseases of this sort.
However, forcing people to get vaccinations against STDs seems to go outside of the legitimate power of the state (at least in normal circumstances). After all, a person who is not vaccinated against an STD is only a threat to (and threatened by) those they have sex with. As such, they do not pose a general threat to the population and the state’s right to impose would thus be reduced. Recommending such vaccines does, however, fall within the legitimate power of the state. Of course, a rather good case can be made for mandatory vaccinations against HPV, given that it does provide some protection against a rather serious form of cancer. As far as the matter of choice, it would seem odd to chose to go unprotected against cancer; but perhaps that is a choice parents should be allowed to make for their children-provided that it is an informed, rational choice.
Certain conservatives, such as Bachmann, oppose the HPV vaccine on the grounds that it encourages promiscuity. However, there seems to be no evidence that fear of HPV deters kids in general from having sex and there seems to be no evidence that not vaccinating girls against HPV will make them generally less likely to have sex. In any case, the burden of proof rests on the conservatives here. After all, the vaccine is shown to provide protection against HPV which is a causal factor in cervical cancer and they need to match this level of evidence in regards to their claims about its promiscuity causing powers. This should be easily testable using a study.
Bachmann also opposes the vaccine based on an appeal to anecdotal evidence. She attacked Perry on national TV for exposing girls to what might be “a very dangerous drug.” Bachmann is, of course, not much for science or the scientific method: she is willing to throw aside five years of data showing that the vaccine is safe in favor of a story about a mother who claimed that the vaccine made her daughter mentally retarded. Bachmann acted in a way that is morally irresponsible and even wicked: to score cheap political points she launched an unfounded attack on a safe vaccine that has been proven to protect girls and women from HPV (and hence cervical cancer). While sensible people will, as usual, not heed Bachmann, it seems likely that some people will (as happened with the manufactured autism/vaccine scare) will take her claims at face value and forgo the vaccine for their children, thus denying them protection from HPV. Then again, perhaps Bachmann is actually sincere in her ignorance and her lack of critical thinking skills. However, I do not want either sort of person to be president.
Framingham Heart Study