CNN snuck a debate in on me while I was out of town, so I didn’t get to watch it or recap it. You’re devastated, I know. But I have seen a fair amount of fallout from it, and on one subject in particular, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here: the HPV vaccine and the apparently fascist administration thereof. If you listen to Rep. Michele Bachmann, at least.
Now before I go further and alienate anyone who didn’t like the idea of a federal or state requirement that girls receive Gardasil injections, let me say that I do respect a parent’s decision on whether to opt out of that vaccination, or any other. These are careful considerations and not every parent wants to give their child every injection that’s recommended.
But if you’ll bear with me: there is a reality to face, here.
According to the National Institutes of Health, HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is actually an umbrella term for 150 viruses, more than 40 of which can cause cancer via sexual transmission. It causes a very high percentage of cervical cancers. It does not cause all cervical cancers, and it does not always cause cervical cancer. HPV is a virus that, in most women, will clear itself from her system in about a year and not cause any further problem. For those women who are unable to clear the virus, it alarmingly often causes cervical cancer.
Here’s my question: if we’ve finally found (and by “we” I mean “people I don’t even know,
much less claim bloodline with, but with whom I share the fraternity/sorority of being human”) a way to prevent a type of cancer… why are we bitching about it?
The reality is that even if a woman is a virgin upon marriage, there’s a decent chance her husband is not. (God love him.) There’s a decent chance he’s carrying HPV. It’s a silent virus; there are no symptoms for anyone.
So if your daughter is ever going to have sex with a man (I know nobody likes to think about it, but it’s going to happen unless she’s a lesbian… and even then she might try it once with a guy just to find out for sure), this seems like a pretty good vaccine in which to invest. Because it’s going to keep her from getting cancer from a silent virus that the majority of men carry. (According to cervicalcancer.org, 60% of women contract HPV in their lifetime; the estimate is that it is the same for men, but there are no true diagnostic tests for men.)
Now, Rep. Bachmann is making some serious political hay with this argument. And frankly, if she wants to gain ground against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, she has to. It’s the one thing she can beat him down on. He issued an executive order requiring girls (as young as 11) to get the vaccine. The recommended age was because of two things: trying to get to the girls before they became sexually active, and using the most effective window for their immune systems to absorb and process the vaccine. Perry included an opt-out plan, allowing parents to choose not to have their daughters inoculated. He has said, politically, he would like to go back and change the way he did it so that it would go through the state legislature. But I don’t see anything wrong with requiring girls to get a vaccine that will prevent cancer, and, by extension, help suppress the cost of healthcare diagnosis and treatment. It’s a win-win for girls, women, parents, and the healthcare industry. And again: parents were able to choose not to participate.
I don’t understand what the problem is.
I, for one, wish the HPV vaccine existed when I was young. It would be great to know that I don’t have to worry about cancer on top of everything else that every woman has to worry about once she becomes an adult, regardless of her risk factors. Even if she uses a condom (they break sometimes); even if she’s a virgin when she gets married. My mother is as Catholic as they come, and she and my father agreed that my baby sister should get the shot when it first came out. Maybe it was a year later; either way, she was a teenager. My parents would never give their daughters birth control, even if they knew we were sexually active (and we weren’t) because they believed it would encourage – by way of less discouragement – sexual activity. I’m now 34 and I’m pretty sure they still think that. But they got my little sister vaccinated as a teenager. Because my uber-Catholic mother, who once told me that French kissing is a mortal sin (ruh-roh Rorge), understood that this vaccine is not about sex.
It’s about CANCER.
Fine. It’s a type of cancer we can get from sex. So what? It’s cancer.
And there’s a vaccine for it.
How is this NOT a “glory, hallelujah” no-brainer?!
The reason Rep. Bachmann can make hay from this argument is trifold:
1) It implies sex, even if it’s not really about sex. A sure win with Evangelicals, Tea Partiers and others who base their political votes on religious views.
2) It’s about big government. Any time any member of the government requires you to do something (besides pay taxes or obey laws), that’s a violation of Tea Party standards.
3) It’s about campaign/political contributions. And nobody likes a sell-out.
Rep. Bachmann has claimed that Gov. Perry got money from Merck, the manufacturers of Gardasil, and that’s why he pushed through an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV. Gov. Perry says they gave him $5,000. Other sources show he got more like $30,000.
You know what? That’s one lobby I’m happy to have around. Whatever lobby there is that says, “We’ll pay you if you make people get a shot that will prevent cancer” — I’m on-board.
And in terms of political interest, I can’t help but take issue with the way Rep. Bachmann framed her attack on Gov. Perry. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. That’s a violation of a liberty interest. That’s– little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a Mulligan. They don’t get a do-over. The parents don’t get a do-over.”
“Innocent little 12-year-old girls.” “Government injection.” How does that not sound like a scare tactic on a grand scale?
Rep. Bachmann claimed, after the newest CNN debate, that she met a woman whose daughter became mentally handicapped after receiving the vaccine. If that’s true, I’m heartbroken for that family. But according to the American Association of Pediatrics, it’s not true. They say there have been 35,000,000 HPV vaccinations given out and the drug has an excellent safety record, and there is zero evidence that Gardasil has caused mental handicaps. I’m not saying vaccines are perfect and I’m not saying manufacturers don’t hide things, but if you’ll give your kids shots for diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and myriad other illnesses, what is so different about one for HPV?
Odds are, it’s going to prevent cervical cancer. And that’s all it will do to your daughter.
Again, I respect it if you choose not to immunize your daughter. You have your reasons. My youngest nephew is 18 months old and has had no vaccines, and as much as that scares me, I respect his parents’ decision. But let’s remember: the government requires children to be vaccinated against several contagious viruses and/or bacteria by school age. How is this vaccine different, in a government overreach sense? If not inoculating your young daughter against HPV is your decision, I may not agree, but I’m not her mother, and that’s that. But if, God forbid, she ever gets the virus and winds up with cervical cancer, she might have a problem with the fact that you refused to let her get the shot. And you might regret it, too.
I would – truly respectfully - ask you: is your decision because you’re afraid your daughter will have sex? Or is it because you’re worried about the potential medical side-effects of the vaccine? If it’s the former, I guarantee you: she will have sex one day. And it won’t be about her. It will be about her partner. Who you did not raise, whose morals you did not shape. And he, unwillingly, regretfully, could expose your daughter to HPV that may develop into cervical cancer. He won’t mean to. He won’t want to. He won’t even know he’s doing it. He will love your daughter and never want to hurt her. But it could happen.
If your reason is the side effects, I remind you that all the evidence thus far shows that the vaccine is very safe.
Politics are one thing. Life and death are another. If Rep. Bachmann wants to pander to Tea Party Religious Right extremists, that’s where the votes are for her, and that’s what she needs to do. But I hope Americans see it for what it is, and I hope Rick Perry never apologizes for wanting girls to be protected.
It’s not about sex. It’s about cancer. And there is something Rep. Bachmann was right about. Innocent girls don’t get a do-over. And neither do their parents.