Feature

HPV vaccine: Should it be mandatory?

At the GOP presidential debate, Michele Bachmann attacked Rick Perry for having mandated vaccination against the human papillomavirus.

Michele Bachmann has proved that she suffers from “breathtaking ignorance,” said The Washington Post in an editorial. At last week’s GOP presidential debate, the Minnesota congresswoman scored some points with an inflammatory attack on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s since-overturned executive order that all girls in the state receive a vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. Perry, Bachmann said, had tried to force “a government injection on innocent little 12-year-old girls.” The next day, she went totally off the cliff by asserting in a national TV interview that the HPV vaccine—called Gardasil—can cause “mental retardation.” For a presidential candidate to engage in this kind of anti-vaccination nonsense is wildly irresponsible, and could sabotage the ongoing campaign to protect women against HPV. Perhaps Bachmann will also now object to mandatory vaccinations for polio, chicken pox, mumps, measles, and other infectious diseases.

There’s a big difference between those diseases and HPV, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview​.com. They’re easily transmitted through the air, casual contact, and “routine classroom interaction,” which is the only reason we grant the state the power to require vaccination. HPV is transmitted only through sex, and there are plenty of parents who would choose not to have their children vaccinated, “out of a conviction that it would undermine the parent’s encouragement of abstinence from sex.” Simply put, the state should not be “encouraging sexual promiscuity by socializing its cost.”

HPV may not be easily catchable in gym class, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post, but from 50 to 75 percent of Americans contract “this nasty little” virus at some point in their lives. HPV causes virtually all of the 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer, and 4,000 deaths, each year. A widespread program of mandatory vaccination could slash those numbers dramatically. As a Christian and a parent, I find it astonishing that anyone would suggest that HPV and cancer should continue to serve as deterrents against engaging in premarital sex. And what of the woman who remains abstinent until marriage, and then contracts HPV from her unknowing husband? Vaccines work only if the entire population receives them. That’s how epidemics like HPV are eliminated, and why the decision to vaccinate is not purely personal. Perry may have been heavy-handed in mandating the HPV vaccine, but it’s Bachmann who’s truly guilty of “moral confusion and public health illiteracy.”

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