Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry
Last week, cable news network CNN hosted and aired a debate among Republican Party candidates, and one of the more contentious issues (besides CNN serving as co-host) that arose was the HPV vaccination for girls.
At one point in the debate, Representative Michele Bachmann challenged Texas Governor Rick Perry over a law he signed that mandated girls in Texas to receive an HPV vaccination. Bachmann argued that this law “forced” girls to take a “potentially dangerous drug,” even though this vaccine has been found to be safe and effective for preventing transmission of the disease. Bachmann later released a video further explaining her stance on the vaccine.
So why is this vaccine so controversial? On the surface, Bachmann and her supporters claim that any law mandating a health procedure is unlawful and intrusive. But the issue goes much deeper than this. As some writers have pointed out, the distaste for this vaccine seems to be related the disease it prevents. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and it is recommended that girls be immunized by the age of twelve, before they become sexually active. Some conservatives believe that exposing preteens girls to any knowledge of STIs, even in the name of prevention, will somehow propel these girls into sexual relationships.
What’s being overlooked is just how common and how serious HPV can be. The American Social Health Association estimates that up to 80% of sexually active people will be infected with HPV at least once. Left untreated, genital-to-genital transmission of the virus can lead to cervical, anal, vulval, vaginal, and penile cancer, and oral transmission can lead to mouth and throat cancer. The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective method for curtailing transmission, and since many states require other types of immunization before children enter school, it only makes sense to add this vaccine to the roster.
Unfortunately, the political circus that’s currently swirling around the United States seems to be burying the health benefits of this vaccine in favor of moralizing. Let’s hope our politicians can learn to put public health above their own private views.
Girl Museum Inc.