Rick Perry and the HPV vaccine: Trying to save lives

Rick Perry’s position on the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine may be unpopular with some conservatives and it may be seen as an opportunity for political gain by some opponents, but his decision to require 11 – 12 year old females enrolled in public schools to be vaccinated for the HP virus was both morally correct and within the school  law tradition regarding vaccinations.

Let’s begin with school immunization laws—every state requires school children to be vaccinated against certain specified diseases prior to enrolling in public school, and most states require parents to provide proof from a health care provider as a condition of enrollment.  According to the Center for Disease Control, “These may include vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus (lockjaw), Haemophilus influenzae type b, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and hepatitis B. Some states have added varicella (chicken pox) vaccination to the list of required vaccines. Smallpox vaccination was once required, but the disease has been so successfully eradicated that this vaccination is no longer needed.”   The states are required by federal law to provide information to parents about these vaccines, but case law supports the state’s right to require vaccines against communicable diseases.  Parent’s right to “opt out” of these vaccinations is limited to a health exception and a religious exception.  There is no state that has an “opt in” provision for required immunizations and the “opt out” provision is severely restricted.  Requiring female students to be vaccinated for the HP virus is totally consistent with other state immunization laws which virtually no one questions.  The HP virus is a communicable disease.  According to the CDC, it is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and 50% of all Americans who are not vaccinated for HPV will contract the virus.

More importantly, Perry’s decision was morally correct—this vaccine saves lives.  Gardasil protects girls and young women, ages 9 to 26, from 4 types of HPV, including 2 types of HPV that cause 75% of cervical cancer cases and 2 types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.  In addition Gardasil has been shown to protect against 70% of vaginal cancer cases and 50% of vulvar cancer cases.  Because Gardasil is a preventive vaccination, it is recommended that it be administered prior to the onset of sexual activity.  Once the HPV virus has been contracted, Gardasil has no curative effect.  Gardasil has been determined to be safe as well as effective.  There are only minor side effects that have been reported and confirmed, and these in a tiny portion of the population receiving the vaccination.  World-wide there are approximately 470,000 cases of cervical cancer annually with an almost 50% mortality rate.  There are 11,000 cases of cervical case reported in the United States each year .  Gardasil prevents the spread of a deadly virus and saves lives.  Every state should add this vaccine to its required list.  And anyone who thinks that 12 year old girls are not becoming sexually active hasn’t been in a public school lately.

Governor Perry did the right thing by requiring the HPV vaccine with only an “opt out” provision.  Every state that cares about the health of young women should, in fact, add this vaccine to the list of required school immunizations.  Cervical cancer can be virtually eliminated in the same way that small pox, polio, diphtheria, and german measles have been primarily through required immunization of children.  The real tragedy here is that his executive order was never carried out—that the Texas legislature overrode his decision—and the no young girls were required to be vaccinated for HPV.