Last week, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, issued a mandate making Texas the first state to require girls entering the sixth grade to receive the vaccine Gardasil, one of the two vaccines for HPV. HPV (human papillomavirus) is incredibly common, and it is believed that nearly 75 percent of women will contract some form of HPV in their adulthood. Seventy percent of all cervical cancer cases are the result of types 16 and 18 of HPV. Gardasil portects against these types of HPV.
For more than a year now, the vaccine for HPV has been making headlines for the moral and value-based repercussions it might have on young girls. Recently the conversation has shifted. The new coverage circulating around the story focuses on the revenue Merck & Co., the makers of Gardasil, will receive from this mandate and Perry's involvement with the company. The current coverage only briefly mentions the concerns of parents' rights groups.
Why such a sudden shift in the conversation? Frankly, it's because the majority of Americans are not buying into the weightless argument that a vaccine such as Gardasil will promote premarital sex among young girls. A story about a money-hungry politician, however, has the ability to grab the attention of the American public, frustrated over the continuous corruption circulating throughout the government.
Don't be fooled by the distraction. The fact that a private company will make money off of a product that protects the health of the American public is nothing new. The real controversy is about the fact that the mandated vaccine treats a virus where 37 out of the 120 strands are contracted through sexual activity.
Would anybody really care who was making a buck off Gardasil if it wasn't associated with a sexually transmitted disease? I highly doubt it. The issue here is that dirty little word: 'sex.' Members of "family" (cough … religious fanatic) organizations shudder at the word, fearing that even a mention of such activity would send subtle messages to adolescents deterring them from their "chastity-chic" approach to life.
Groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have lobbied to replace sex education with abstinence-only programs in our schools. These programs leave teenagers and young adults dangerously misinformed when it comes to basic sexual and reproductive health issues. This often results in higher STD and unwanted pregnancy rates. These are the same groups that are challenging the mandate that Perry has imposed on the state of Texas. In an effort to shield adolescents from the subject of sex, parents' rights groups are willing to jeopardize the health and common welfare of American citizens.
The American public is being offered the ability to take an active role in the prevention of a disease that killed more than 4,000 women in 2006. I find it discouraging that today in the United States the health and well-being of adolescent girls are being put in jeopardy because of a fundamentalist view on the sanctity of sex before marriage. If HPV were not contracted sexually, there would be no debate on whether we should try to prevent the spread of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer of women.