Vaccinating Choice: D.C. Sixth Graders and HPV

Parents, not government, should decide if their 11-year-old daughters need to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease. But two weeks ago, the District of Columbia’s city council voted to require all sixth grade girls to receive the HPV vaccine beginning in 2009. The bill, introduced by council members David A. Catania and Mary M. Cheh, says that female students must present proof of vaccine reception before attending school.  

HPV (Human Papallomavirus) is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. This approach to prevention is full of medical, moral, and constitutional holes that disregard a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.

Though government mandated vaccinations are nothing new, the ones currently in place, such as the sixth grade MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shot, prevent viruses spread through physical classroom contact. HPV is spread solely through sexual contact. Therefore, an unvaccinated child is not a danger to her classmates and schooling should not hinge on the reception of this vaccination.

“Are the D.C. authorities assuming that a sexually transmitted disease would be caught in their city’s classrooms?” asked Concerned Women for America (CWA) President Wendy Wright, who also said that the mandatory vaccine is rash and risky.

In February 2007, The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) warned state officials to investigate the safety of this vaccine — Gardasil. In a February Washington Times article. Vicky Debold, health policy analyst for NVIC said, "Young girls are experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, temporary loss of vision and some girls have lost consciousness during what appear to be seizures.”

The vaccine is FDA-approved but this kind of feedback from a watchdog organization should spark more attention than the minimally reported side effect findings did.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the vaccine “only prevents infection of four strains of HPV… It does not protect against all types of cervical cancer-causing HPV.” Vaccine advocates often fail to mention that over 100 strains of HPV exist. Without this relevant knowledge, adolescent foolishness may cause some youth feel much “safer,” but the shot provides minimal protection at best from STD’s.

In requiring a vaccine for something transmitted only sexually, schools essentially assume that all girls will participate in risky sexual behavior. Education is the best route — but “the mandate circumvents educating people… therefore giving them a false sense of security,” said Wright.

An “opt-out” of the vaccine is available under the bill enabling parents to obtain exemptions. But the D.C. bill does not say how. South Carolina is currently battling a passage of the vaccination and their state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will allow parents “to opt their children out of vaccines for medical or religious reasons,” according to a The State news report. Similar options will likely ensue for D.C. schools.

Being forced to invent excuses and fill out paperwork to bypass the vaccine, though, is “burdensome to a parent to have to prove to the government official they can make responsible decisions,” said Wright.

In a recent press release from the Christian Medical Association (CMA), CEO Dr. David Stevens said, "States need to uphold the rights of parents in guiding the healthcare of their own children…This means that any HPV vaccine mandate should allow parents an easy means to opt out of the vaccine for their child.”  But easy has yet to be defined in this case.

In a city council meeting, Catania said, "…now is the perfect time for the District to lead the nation in the fight against what is in essence a preventable disease.” But is it right to fight one cause at the sake of a fundamental, American principle — personal liberty?

The three round series of Gardasil, from the pharmaceutical company Merck, costs $360, but the high price induces questions as well.  Vice-President of Policy at the Family Research Council Peter Sprigg writes, “Wall Street analysts estimate that 65% of the vaccine’s cost is profit for Merck, with only 10% going to research and development. It’s no wonder Merck wants the vaccine distributed as widely as possible.”

Overlooked in press accounts lauding the bill was the relationship between Merck and its heavy influence in lobbying. They suspended the campaign eventually, “amid questions about whether profit, rather than public health, is guiding the debate,” but the persuasion for the most part was done.

Those involved in moving this bill forward consistently fail to emphasize the most important prevention method available — abstinence. On The Center for Disease Control web site, abstinence is the very last thing mentioned in their detailed analysis of the vaccine. But for teenagers, this should be the loudest message of all.

“It just appears to me that this legislation is more about Merck profits and liberal sexual politics than the well-being of our children,” wrote Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative talk show host.

While groups like Women in Government and Planned Parenthood view the topic narrowly — a disease which must be eliminated in any way — conservative citizens see the mandate as wholly un-American.

What’s best for a political agenda and a pharmaceutical company’s pocketbook isn’t necessarily good for children or parents. The vaccine itself is a positive advancement for healthcare, but requiring it and withholding important details about it in doing so are not. If parents want their children vaccinated, they should do so. But that should be a personal choice.