Get ready for a firestorm of debate over Texas Gov. Rick Perry's order to vaccinate all sixth-grade girls against a virus that could later cause cervical cancer. Parents can opt out of the mandatory but free vaccinations for reasons of conscience, including their religious beliefs.
And Texas is merely the first state to do it ... 49 others are weighing it.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Today, about 20 million people in the nation are infected, including one in four 15- to 24-year-olds. Certain strains of HPV cause most cases of cervical cancer. Texas has the second highest number of women suffering from HPV. In 2006, there were 1,169 new cases and nearly 400 deaths from cervical cancer here. In the USA, cervical cancer will strike about 11,150 women this year -- and 3,670 will die.
On one side of this simmering debate, you have public-health advocates who say we could greatly reduce a woman-killing disease with a simple shot.
On the other side, you have opponents who say it's de facto permission for girls to have safer sex, invades personal liberties and usurps parental decision-making, might not be totally safe, and make a pot-load of taxpayer money for Merck, the vaccine's maker. A great deal of the opposition so far is coming from the radical religious bloc and the extreme conservatives (members of which also believed that measles vaccinations and water fluoridation were secret government control conspiracies.) But all government vaccination programs have had similar opposition.
The vaccinations are a good idea, and the opt-out provision makes it even more palatable for parents who'd rather not take steps to protect their daughters. That's rather dull of them, but it's their choice. We have long vaccinated children with any number of disease-fighting shots, but along comes a vaccination against a sexually transmitted disease and you can almost hear the radical religious assholes snap shut. (But you'll also hear some untoward glee in the radical Left that is more about sticking it to the radical Right than about saving girls' lives.) And who isn't discomfited by the idea that huge pharmaceutical companies can go into state legislatures and strong-arm their way to friendly drug policies? I am, but I think the benefit of saving girls' lives outweighs my discomfort (but hey, Big Pharm, don't try to sell us on the idea of taxpayer-subsidized Viagra.)
Alas, I guess that means that in the future, men, you might want to avoid marrying a home-schooled Christian girl with a father who wears O'Reilly Factor T-shirts. She'll be the most likely to be carrying HPV ... and the most likely to die early from cervical cancer.